We began class by talking about the hot-topic on campus, the recent fatal shooting that took place this past weekend.
Everyone can agree that UNI has done a poor job at handling the situation and dispersing information. A kid literally died and UNI has hardly released any info. This is because it is out of their jurisdiction, but I believe that need to put rules and legalities aside and release a statement, especially since it happened on the college hill, which is has a highly-dense population of UNI students and is only feet from campus.
After about an hour long discussion, we shifted gear.
We moved onto the case “Snyder V. Phelps”.
Can a church be sued when they are protesting a funeral? It sounds bizarre, but that is the big question this case asks.
Essentially, Westboro Baptist Church, a cult-like organization, protested a fallen soldier’s funeral. They used signs, words and other forms of protest. They claimed that the soldier died because that is how God punished him for defending a country that defends gays and homosexuality.
Ultimately, Westboro Baptist Church, a group I was aware about prior to this class, is a church full of nut jobs. They protest everything and have the most radical and bizarre beliefs. They believe whole country’s are damned, that gays are going to hell, that the media is bad and so on. Perhaps the craziest part to me is the amount of kids that they have as members of their church. Literally, there are 5-9 year old kids shouting profanity. They are being brainwashed and there is no doubt about it.
They believe that natural disasters are “God smacks” or God “kicking humanities ass” for their sins. In other words, all natural disasters, shootings and other catastrophes are caused by God. Kids hold up signs that say “god hates fags”, “god hates easter” and so on.
They also believe that Barack Obama is the anti-christ.
The documentary shows clips of the kids talking about how they deal with there “bad” thoughts, or the thoughts they have that go against the cult, or in my eyes, “normal” thoughts. The kids said they just have to stop thinking about it. Clearly they are being brainwashed, literally.
One of the leaders or most notable members of the church group actually expunged his daughter from the family. Literally, she is no longer a part of the family. All family photos taken down and all contact has been stopped. That is crazy. Thats like if my parents decided to never speak to me again because of my beliefs or their beliefs. Its ridiculous.
Thats enough background on Westboro, now let’s get into the case.
SNYDER V. PHELPS took place in 2010. In the argument, yes, they mention the first amendment, but also the context. It is a funeral and a father is burying his only son, which they tried to persuade the judge that it was completely unnecessary. First and foremost, I agree. I also stand by the first amendment, but not when it is purposely hurting someone.
However, as much as the protest is morally wrong, it is not illegal and therefore it will be difficult for Snyder to win this case.
Some of the arguments that Snyder presented (against Phelps) was that the signs they showed and picketed were targeted for the father directly. “God hates you”, “your son is rotting in hell” and other vulgar and nasty signs. Specifically, Snyder argues that the signs say “you” and that that was referring specifically to Matthew Snyder and company.
I also want to mention that this case is extremely interesting as it touches on several “hot topics” such as the first amendment, harassment, public speech, slander and libel, defamation, intentional infliction and so on.
“Public Speech should be treated differently when aimed at a public figure versus a public figure”
“How exactly would that be enacted under the first amendment?” questioned the women.
I was very interested in this, it was long, but it was hard to not get fully immersed.
Link for paper: https://www.oyez.org/cases/2010/09-751