Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Mr. Phelps, David Koresh Called. He wants to chat.

A while ago, I did an article on Mr. Fred Phelps and his merry band of miscreants at the Westboro Baptist Chuch.  You know who they are.  They have protests at military funerals, or anywhere they can get their dirty faces in front of a video camera, because their cult leader and deity, Phelps, can't stand to have someone stand between him and media coverage.

I professionally continued that slash and burn here.

Now, the Supreme Court, in their infinite wisdom, have declared that Mr. Phelps and his WBC crowd have the right to protest anywhere.  Although, looking at excerpts, it reads like the eight members of the court held their nose, cast their vote, and deeply wanted to beat Phelps down with a baseball bat.  Though that could just be me.

Are we surprised, though?  Early last year, a federal court of appeals threw out a jury verdict in favor of Albert Snyder, who had sued WBC protesters at his son Matthew's funeral.  The charge was intentional infliction of emotional distress. These inbred cultists stood outside Matthew's funeral with placards saying things like, "God Loves Dead Soldiers," "God Hates You," "You're Going to Hell," "Semper Fi Fags," "Thank God for Dead Soldiers," "Thank God for IEDs" and "God Hates Fags."

When Snyder appealed his case to the Supreme Court, and the court had to decide whether the tort of intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED) can ever exist in a country with a First Amendment.

Now, I'm going to do something I try not to do.  I'm going to quote a political commentator. 

Unlike many legal concepts, the tort of IIED is not an obscure legal doctrine written in pig Latin. It means what it says: speech or conduct specifically intended to inflict emotional distress. The usual description of the tort of IIED is that a reasonable man viewing the conduct would react by saying, "That's outrageous!"

The Second Restatement of Torts (1965) defines IIED as conduct "so outrageous in character, and so extreme in degree, as to go beyond all possible bounds of decency, and to be regarded as atrocious, and utterly intolerable in a civilized community."

As a respected New York judge, Judith Kaye, described it, "The tort is as limitless as the human capacity for cruelty." Inasmuch as IIED claims are made based on all manner of insults, rudeness, name-calling and petty affronts, the claim is often alleged, but rarely satisfied.

But if a group of lunatics standing outside the funeral of a fallen American serviceman with hateful signs about the deceased does not constitute intentional infliction of emotional distress, then there is no such tort recognizable in America anymore.  
The protesters weren't publishing their views in a magazine, announcing them on a "Morning Zoo" radio program, proclaiming them on some fringe outlet .... or even standing on a random street corner. Their protest was held outside a funeral for the specific purpose of causing pain to the deceased's loved ones.

This was written by Ann Coulter.   Yes, that one.

The annoying thing is that the original appeal court tossed the just because ........ the protest signs contained words, and that words are "speech."  Uh huh.

And now, the Surpreme Court has come down on the side of Phelps, in an overwhelming 8-1 decision.  The only holdout was Sam Alito.

Does this mean that the US Government owes David Koresh an apology?  After all, he was a cult leader, with most of his members consisting of his own family.  He spouted off a lot of psychotic gibberish, and he also happened to own a lot of guns ... in Texas, where everyone owns a lot of guns. 

Now, twenty years later after Koresh and Co are in the ground, does that mean I can show up anywhere with a sign that says "Kill [insert person here]" and get away with it?  A politician?  Someone I don't like?  Those signs would have words, after all, don't they.  What about shouting one word, "Fire" in a crowded theater?  The Nazis of America were not allowed to march through a Jewish Illoinois town in the 1960s, but this guy can show up at personal, private events, and hurl hate speech?  Really?

In the past few months, there were all sorts of charges brought up against bullying.  Teenagers were being threatened with jail because of "words," and words that were a lot less hurtful than a hundred people showing up at someone's funeral with loud, angry, hate-fill signs. Malicious postings about someone on Facebook is a crime, teenagers bullying classmates is a crime, but what Phelps and co. does isn't?  What?

I'm not a lawyer.  Thank God. I will never be one.   If the court wants to look at words, look at these: intentional infliction of emotional distress.  Phelps intentionally showed up at a particular man's funeral, inflicting emotionally distressing "words" on him.

Intentional + inflicting + emotionally distressing = IIED.

What the court was smoking, I'll never know.

Though, in the long run, I wonder.  In the case of the recent bullying examples, people died.  People comitteed suicide.  If people hang themselves after a Mr. Phelps 'protest," would that make what WBC does a crime? 

If so, I wonder how many people will have to die before the Supreme Court gets a clue.

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