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10/06/2010

Preparatory notes on a potential Westboro win

by Jeremy Hooper

Since the U.S. Supreme Court is hearing arguments today in the case of Snyder vs. Phelps, it's important to go ahead and prepare ourselves for the very good chance that Westboro Baptist Church will prevail. Because to be honest: They have a really strong case!

As we've noted several times before in regards to this case: We all have a responsibility to temper our emotional responses to Westboro, making sure to let the facts guide our reactions to the case presented to and Westboro-yet-another-boring-signdecided by the high court. Most anyone with a heart sides with Mr. Snyder or anyone else who has been subjected to a Westboro funeral picket. Nobody understands this more than the LGBT community, since experienced these kinds of pickets for years before the media fully caught on (the spotlight didn't really get white hot until WBC started picketing soldier funerals). We all see that yes, obviously, the actions are objectionable. So obviously the easy response is to try to stop them at any cost.

But unfortunately, the cost being discussed is First Amendment freedom. And to weigh those matters, we simply have to turn to the empirical data. In the current case: Westboro was 1,000+ feet away from the Maryland funeral, as stipulated by state law. MD actually has one of the most aggressive buffer zone of this type, and the Phelpses respected it (as they always do). Plus largely, Mr. Snyder learned the facts of the picket not from firsthand experience, but rather from TV that he saw at a later time, as well as the postmortem writings (or "epics, as they call them) that Westboro posted about their experiences in MD. While no parent should have to go through any of this at any time, these facts must be respected in court.

Look, it pains us to have to make any kind of a case against a still-grieving father who has been robbed of so much peace because of this one vitriolic band of anti-gay, anti-[insert most anything] flamethrowers. But the constitution is the constitution. And if we are going to so fully support the courts when it comes to our freedoms (and defend the courts against those who put their personal whims above the civil law) then we have no choice but to traffic in specific information rather than personal passions. This remains true no matter how understandable and justified those passions may be.

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