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Posted at 3:05 PM ET, 03/ 2/2011

Cuccinelli applauds Supreme Court decision in military funeral case

By Rosalind S. Helderman
Rosalind S. Helderman

Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R) says an 8 to 1 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court Wednesday that the First Amendment protects speech by a fringe church that targets military funerals "vindicated" his decision to stay out of the case.

Cuccinelli was one of only two state attorneys general who did not sign on to an amicus brief expressing support for the family of Matthew Snyder, a Marine killed in Iraq whose funeral was targeted for protests by Westboro Baptist Church. Cuccinelli had faced rare criticism from fellow Republicans when he declined to sign the amicus brief -- and even rarer praise from some liberal voices.

The court today ruled that free-speech rights protect the church from liability for its protests, which suggest that military deaths are America's punishment from God for tolerating homosexuality.

"The First Amendment is designed to protect ideas, even ideas that upset, that inflame, or that the majority of the country would find offensive," Cuccinelli said in a statement. "It protects the rights of speakers we agree with, but also -- and more importantly -- it protects those speakers we would condemn."

In his statement Wednesday, he acknowledged that his stand had been "decidedly unpopular." But he asserted, again, that Westboro and its founder Fred Phelps have the right to voice their opinions, even in the vicinity of military funerals.

"If the court had found against Westboro, the case could have set a precedent that would severely curtail certain valid exercises of free speech. If protestors -- whether political, civil rights, pro-life, or environmental -- said something that offended the object of the protest to the point where that person felt harmed, the protestors could successfully be sued," he said.

Cuccinelli noted that Virginia, like 42 other states, has a law that makes it a crime to disrupt a military funeral -- he said if a protest by Phelps or someone else were to disrupt a funeral, his office would assist in prosecuting the disrupter.

Cuccinelli's full statement can be found after the jump.

Statement of Virginia Ken Cuccinelli (R) on the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Snyder v. Phelps:

"Today, the Supreme Court of the United States vindicated the decision of this office not to join an amicus brief signed by 48 other states in support of tort liability and against Fred Phelps and the followers of the Westboro Baptist Church. While, as both the court in its 8-1 decision and this office have recognized, the speech at issue was vile and reprehensible, it is constitutionally protected under the First Amendment.

"The First Amendment is designed to protect ideas, even ideas that upset, that inflame, or that the majority of the country would find offensive. It protects the rights of speakers we agree with, but also - and more importantly - it protects those speakers we would condemn. As Chief Justice Roberts wrote for the Court,

'Westboro believes that America is morally flawed; many Americans might feel the same about Westboro. Westboro's funeral picketing is certainly hurtful and its contribution to public discourse may be negligible. But Westboro addressed matters of public import on public property, in a peaceful manner, in full compliance with the guidance of local officials. The speech was indeed planned to coincide with Matthew Snyder's funeral, but did not itself disrupt that funeral, and Westboro's choice to conduct its picketing at that time and place did not alter the nature of its speech.

'Speech is powerful. It can stir people to action, move them to tears of both joy and sorrow, and--as it did here--inflict great pain. On the facts before us, we cannot react to that pain by punishing the speaker. As a Nation we have chosen a different course--to protect even hurtful speech on public issues to ensure that we do not stifle public debate. That choice requires that we shield Westboro from tort liability for its picketing in this case.'

"Because my office is committed to the rule of law and to the principles of the First Amendment, we agree wholeheartedly with the chief justice, and that is why we declined to join the amicus brief in this case, even when doing so was decidedly unpopular.

"I absolutely deplore the vile and despicable acts of Fred Phelps and his followers. I also greatly sympathize with the Snyder family and all families who have experienced the hatefulness of those people. But the consequences of this case had to be considered beyond what would happen just to the Westboro followers.

"If the court had found against Westboro, the case could have set a precedent that would severely curtail certain valid exercises of free speech. If protestors - whether political, civil rights, pro-life, or environmental - said something that offended the object of the protest to the point where that person felt harmed, the protestors could successfully be sued.

"While the First Amendment does protect the speech engaged in by the Westboro Baptist Church under the facts of this case, Virginia has a statute criminalizing disruptions at funerals - a law which I voted for while in the state Senate. That statute even provides for jail time for those who willfully disrupt a funeral or memorial service to the point of preventing or interfering with its orderly conduct. We believe that such time, place, and manner restrictions imposed by that law are constitutionally permissible so long as they are neutral as to the content of speech. Nothing in the court's decision suggests otherwise, with the court noting that 43 states have such laws and that '[t]o the extent these laws are content neutral, they raise very different questions from the tort verdict at issue in this case.'

"I am committed to vigorously defending Virginia's funeral disruption statute, but I also must defend the First Amendment. If Phelps or others cross the line and violate the law, my office stands ready to provide assistance to local prosecutors to vindicate the law."

By Rosalind S. Helderman  | March 2, 2011; 3:05 PM ET
Categories:  Ken Cuccinelli, Rosalind Helderman  
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Comments

We all know they have a right to protest but that doesn't make what they're doing right.

Posted by: jameo1 | March 2, 2011 3:32 PM | Report abuse

The Cooch is a worthless waste of DNA.

Posted by: CHICO13 | March 2, 2011 3:34 PM | Report abuse

Kookinelli strikes again! You cannot speak out about climate change, but you can protest homosexuality at Military funerals? Kook - you cannot have "free speech" both ways....

Posted by: Nellie5 | March 2, 2011 3:40 PM | Report abuse

This is another lesson in civics. The SCOTUS is not a court of moral judgment, nor does it set policy. In fact, it is not even a court of "error correction". The SCOTUS is a court that is limited in jurisdiction and examines cases like this from a bare Constitutional perspective. I have spoken to Justices on the Court and have been told that there are times they have to hold their noses in upholding the Constitution even when it benefits people who are not nice.
As for the pseudo-Christians at Westboro, they are a pathetic example of people wo lack the morals and intellect to temper their exercise of rights with basic humanity, decorum , or manners. Frankly, I wonder why someone has not yet organized protests outside that bogus "church" to give them some of their own medicine.

Posted by: MARKM2 | March 2, 2011 3:42 PM | Report abuse

Tough lesson in civics...."God" bless America! We just don't fight for freedoms that we like....but the one's we don't.

Posted by: punirenocentis | March 2, 2011 3:46 PM | Report abuse

I guess they have a point.
Had the Supreme court outlawed silent protests at a military funeral, that would mean you couldn't
1. Protest outside the home of an abortion doctor
2. Protest outside a gay couple's home

People may see a difference just because they support the troops but not gays or abortion.
But law needs to be made to apply equally in all cases.

Posted by: naksuthin | March 2, 2011 3:47 PM | Report abuse

Westboro Baptist Church is a group of radicals hiding under the cloak of Christianity. I served 5 years in the Marine Corps and personally find their behavior sickening. That being said, every one of my brothers and sisters that have worn the fabric of this nations military took an oath to support Westboro Baptist Church is a group of radicals hiding under the cloak of Christianity. I served 5 years in the Marine Corps and personally find their behavior sickening. That being said, every one of my brothers and sisters that have worn the fabric of this nations military took an oath to support and defend the constitution of the United States. The Supreme Court made the correct ruling on this case, and to deny this radical group a voice does nothing but minimize, even negate, the sacrifices of our fallen brothers.
I firmly believe that with each service members funeral that those sickos protest, the fire in hell burns a little hotter for them. They will reap what they sow.
and defend the constitution of the United States. The Supreme Court made the correct ruling on this case, and to deny this radical group a voice does nothing but minimize, even negate, the sacrficies of our fallen brothers.
I firmly believe that with each service members funeral that those sickos protest, the fire in hell burns a little hotter for them. They will reap what they sow.

Posted by: devildog78 | March 2, 2011 3:51 PM | Report abuse

Westboro Baptist Church is a group of radicals hiding under the cloak of Christianity. I served 5 years in the Marine Corps and personally find their behavior sickening. That being said, every one of my brothers and sisters that have worn the fabric of this nations military took an oath to support and defend the constitution of the United States. The Supreme Court made the correct ruling on this case, and to deny this radical group a voice does nothing but minimize, even negate, the sacrifices of our fallen brothers.
I firmly believe that with each service members funeral that those sickos protest, the fire in hell burns a little hotter for them. They will reap what they sow.

Posted by: devildog78 | March 2, 2011 3:52 PM | Report abuse

I do not agree with anything the WBC stands for. That being said, their opinions are how they interpret the bible. The book many Americans live by. I am an atheist so I interpret the bible as merely a story, the person sitting next to me interprets it differently and so on.No one can say the WBC is WRONG, because no one knows.

Posted by: sav87 | March 2, 2011 4:01 PM | Report abuse

Though I value the principal of Freedom of Speech, I also find this ruling disgusting for a disgusting excuse of a Church. Christ, if he really comes back, will slap these despicable "church members" on the back of the head and say to them "that's not what I preached, dipstick!" well, maybe not dipstick. Not in his nature to demean. But, maybe he will also slap the Supreme Court justices too. He should.
The supreme court has done two major resent injustices; one, rule that corporations as well as foreign countries can donate at will to political causes and candidates, and two, letting the vile Westboro Church of the Immaculate Fanatic perform their disgusting rituals. One, the first one got us The Koch Brothers of Kansas degenerating our politics; two, we get the Westboro garbage. They should be barred from calling themselves Christian.
Personally, I feel betrayed by the supreme court on two counts now. And, I can't just blame republican appointees here....

Posted by: sd-mouth1 | March 2, 2011 4:02 PM | Report abuse

Ok Westboro you pice of dog crap im glad everyons free speech is protected cause I speek with bullits...If I ever catch you doing that crap there will be 2 bodys in the grave your decicing to prey upon...I caint wait...Im hungry for your pain ant terror you prick!!!

Posted by: johnzeppelin | March 2, 2011 4:02 PM | Report abuse

This is brutal - and coming from a CHURCH? This is what you religious folk do? Attack/harrass a grieving father at his son's funeral?

There is no hope for the US. I know it's not all of you, but yet another nail in your coffin, nonetheless.

What the f is wrong with you guys? Do you not even have a sliver of compassion?

Posted by: Ackthpt | March 2, 2011 4:12 PM | Report abuse

Mr Cuccinelli is an idiot. The first admendment does not permit hate speech. If Mr. Phelps wants to preach that trash to his church that is his right; but he does not have the right to go out in public and inflict emotional stress and hurt on another person.
SHAME-SHAME-SHAME on the SCOTUS for ruling in Phelps favor.

If he can, then why can't the church address the sin of HOMOSEXUALITY openly in public; without fear of persecution?

Think about it!!!!

Posted by: nlk224 | March 2, 2011 4:13 PM | Report abuse

to nlk224, the WBC spends most of their time openly protesting homosexuality.

Posted by: sav87 | March 2, 2011 4:15 PM | Report abuse

in response to naksuthin:
"I guess they have a point.
Had the Supreme court outlawed silent protests at a military funeral, that would mean you couldn't
1. Protest outside the home of an abortion doctor
2. Protest outside a gay couple's home"

That's right! So thanks to this ruling we can ALSO peacefully protest:
3. Outside of the WBC members' homes
4. Outside of the homes of people who protest outside of a gay couple's home


Posted by: belleisle | March 2, 2011 4:17 PM | Report abuse

I have a simple statement.. May they (soulless justices)rot in Hades along with the disciples of satan

Posted by: vageorge | March 2, 2011 4:39 PM | Report abuse

I'll totally take that misdemeanor assault charge if it means I get to express my "free speech" to WBC. No wait! Using threats of violence to get what I want sounds like terrorism, which is what WBC specializes in, which would bring me down to their level... But what about throwing/launching water balloons full of paint and/or spoiled milk at them? That's not terrorism, is it? It wouldn't be sinking to their level, as middle schoolers are more mature than these bigoted d-bags. And how awesome would the Youtube highlight reel of those bast---s getting hit with canola oil be? Looks like someone has a new hobbyyyy!!

Posted by: Terrorfied | March 2, 2011 4:39 PM | Report abuse

Mr. Cuccinelli is absolutely correct! Even though the Westboro "Baptist" Church protesters engaged in what can only be described as demoniacally inspired, anti-Christian behavior, the Constitution protects all who think differently than the majority. I cannot articulate the better than what he stated above.

We can only pray that God will comfort the family of Lance Corporal Snyder for having to endure the vileness of the Phelps' actions. They suffer twice the pain of the loss of a loved one and of exposure to the utter filth by the Phelps.

While Westboro may be permitted to protest, freedom of speech is a two edged sword. I urge everyone to a campaign of prayer and persuasion, that Mr. Phelps and his family turn away from the hate that consumes them. If you should encounter them spreading their hatred, respond to them with Christian kindness and resist the enormous temptation to give in to anger. Attempt to communicate with them and describe how, while protesting against sinful practices of lust, they also commit grave sins of pride and wrath. While they probably don't want to hear that, it is your right to speak the Truth.

(Here is a word of caution for those who attempt to council the Phelps: You will be tempted to commit a sin of pride. Speak to them in humility. Remember you are also stained with sin, so avoid the trap of being "holier than thou").

Their message is a direct contravention of all Christian teaching, and the statement "God hates fags" (or anyone else) is blasphemy. God loves ALL of his creation, and He gave us a free will to accept or reject him, as well as his Son, Jesus Christ, to suffer and die to redeem us from our sinfulness and and provide an example of holiness for us to imitate.

Some day we all we stand before Christ and take responsibility for our every thought, word and deed. I hope that the Phelps' will turn from their darkness and embrace the true Christian ethic before that occurs.

Posted by: murjo08 | March 2, 2011 4:39 PM | Report abuse

Murjo08:

Yeah, I see and recognize yours point at the more valid point- not because I believe any of what you said judgement and all that, but because it's "the right thing to do"... but c'mon! It would be so much easier/more fun to simply fling cr@% at them from a distance! How do poo-flingers go down in God's book?

Posted by: Terrorfied | March 2, 2011 4:48 PM | Report abuse

@ murjo08
If I were to encounter the Westboro morons I would be tempted to reach for my double barrel

Posted by: vageorge | March 2, 2011 4:51 PM | Report abuse

I do like the suggestion of paint filled balloons. Makes me smile at the thought

Posted by: vageorge | March 2, 2011 4:59 PM | Report abuse

@ Terrorfied
@ vageorge

"What ever you do to least of my brothers, (and the Phelps' qualify!) that you do to me".

As for poo-flinging: Crude...but tempting!

Posted by: murjo08 | March 2, 2011 5:01 PM | Report abuse

Westboro Baptist Church needs to be deflated, and the best way to do this is through humor and ridicule. We need Letterman to do a Top Ten List of the best signs to ridicule these idiots, and then we need a group of people to stand right next to these idiots on the picket line with funny signs. And then we need everyone in town to drive by and honk and laugh at these idiots from Westboro Baptist Church. We need Jay and Jon and Stephen and Conan and Jimmy and everyone out there to contribute ideas for signs that can be used in our own "deflate the ego of the Westboro Baptist Church" demonstration. And then, we need everyone just to ignore them - and yes, that means the media, too.

Posted by: suekelso | March 2, 2011 5:55 PM | Report abuse

What a great contest - imagine you are standing next to Fred Phelps - what is the funniest sign you can think of?

Posted by: suekelso | March 2, 2011 5:58 PM | Report abuse

I'll be sure to be at Cuccinelli's funeral and employ the same tactics he applauds. I will also use the internet to vilify him, his children and his entire family.

May he "enjoy" every perk suggested by those vile signs, like "Roast In Hell." This is not "Free Speech." Free Speech is fine as long as it doesn't trample on someone else's rights. How would Cuccinelli like it if people bearing those signs and shouting those chants were to follow him wherever he went.

Posted by: fregameeate | March 2, 2011 10:24 PM | Report abuse

I have no problem with upholding peoples right to free speech and all especially the sometimes vile, caustic, and hurtful things people can conjur up.

What I am upset about is the fact that even in DEATH, you CANNOT REST IN PEACE! It is evident by this ruling that the Supreme Court has ruled for whomever feels this way: "so what the guy/gal is dead. We are going to defame their memory and there is nothing they can do about it." This applies to not only the military heroes, but your average joe/jane citizen. There is no longer a line that cannot be crossed.

Standby - the Supreme Court will next rule on letting all "kooks" run through cemeteries protesting the dead souls in the name of "free speech." Thanks "Supreme" Court...

Posted by: kbinva1 | March 3, 2011 7:33 AM | Report abuse

As disgusting as WBC church is it appears Alito doesn't believe in the Constitution.

Posted by: mikefromArlington | March 3, 2011 3:34 PM | Report abuse

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