Snyder v. Phelps, Redux

On 06 March 2011, peashooter Wildbillycircusstory eloquently wrote about the 8-1, Justice Roberts’-led, Supreme Court ruling on Snyder v. Phelps, et al:

“the First Amendment bars recovery for the tort of Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress (IIED) when the offending speech concerns a matter relating to public rather than private matters.  While conceding the defendants intentionally chose the funeral of plaintiff’s son to publish their views, it nevertheless held the communication within the ‘special protection’ afforded by the First Amendment.”

That entry into the annals of Eat My Peashoot set off a somewhat spirited, and ultimately set aside (presumably to prevent endless commentary without resolution), back and forth between Wildbilly and me. As I see it, the Westboro Baptist Church business of picketing the funerals of fallen soldiers, while using reprehensible anti-LGBTQ speech, is one of those cases that makes squaring the constitutional law protecting free speech in this country with one’s conscience and moral compass nearly impossible to do. Here’s a typical image from one of the Westboro Church’s rhetoricians.

Images like this one are all over the internet. And for as long as I can remember, in the United States it’s very common, if not expected, to see expressions of U.S. patriotism (note the flag belt on the lady in the photo) brandished about like this, as if to be a citizen of the U.S. one must keep to a narrow, fundamentalist reading of the Bible. What’s more, American citizenship for many in this country must involve Christian theology. And it’s not just any theology, but a theology that espouses a far-right ideological agenda that, almost invariably, deploys hate speech to make its point. Thankfully, there is another side to this rhetoric, but it’s not as frequently covered in the mainstream media as are the dissertations of the Phelps, et al brigades.

None of this is news, of course, not to the history of this grand old country, not to Eat My Peashoot. So why rehash it now? Simply because I’d like to draw to the attention of Eat My Peashoot’s fair readers an article in a recent issue of Religion Dispatches, “What To Do When Fred Phelps Arrives in Your Neighborhood.” This piece nicely addresses the difficulties that arise for folks who want, simultaneously, to support the country’s protection of free speech, to oppose the anti-LGBTQ rhetoric of Phelps and the Westboro Church, to honor fallen soldiers, and (perhaps) oppose U.S. militarism. And there’s more. It’s an interesting and  creative piece — read it here. Had you thought about “fantasy picketing” or “fantasy dissent” (like “fantasy baseball”) as a way to move past, or somehow cope with, this issue? I hadn’t. Sure, it’s not likely to materialize. But that’s not the point, or what I take away from the article. The point of the article, possibly, is to underscore the way in which the ground of the U.S. becomes damaged when religion and politics start snogging in public, and religious ideologues — who claim to speak on behalf of the transcendent Almighty, and for this are given unlimited news coverage, and consequently wield great influence — are protected by law to pontificate hate speech.

Thankfully the anti-Phelps / anti-Westboro Baptist Church picketing, umbrella-blocking, et cetera will persist, all of which is perhaps the best (only?) civil, nonviolent antidote available. Be sure to see some of this signwork, too.

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