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Late Night: Phelps and Free Speech

The United States Supreme Court has said it would consider an appeal from the father of a slain Marine who hopes to reinstate a $5 million verdict against Fred Phelps’ Topeka-based Westboro Baptist Church.

At issue are rights of free speech versus the right of privacy. Richard Levy, a professor of constitutional law at the University of Kansas told the Topeka Star:

This is a hot area of First Amendment law. There are a lot of issues swirling around this type of case, and the court may feel it should step in and clarify the law.

The SCOTUS ruling could affect state laws designed to curb funeral protests and potentially affect free speech. I don’t like how Phelps protests, I don’t care for what he says in the least; it’s shoddy theology designed for maximum PR. But so what? WBC has the right to say it, in the same way Anonymous has the right to protest outside the Church of Scientology with signs that say “Holy Xenu! Stop the Cult of Greed and Lies!” or morans have the right to march holding placards depicting whoever is president now as Hitler/Stalin/Mother Theresa.

I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend unto to death your right to say it

wasn’t actually written by Voltaire, to whom the above quote is oft attributed; it’s a paraphrase of Voltaire’s attitudes by Evelyn B. Hall, possibly based on a letter the French philosopher wrote to Abbe le Riche in 1770:

Monsieur l’abbé, I detest what you write, but I would give my life to make it possible for you to continue to write.

Free speech–even Phelps’ troglodyte, hate-filled screed–is a necessary component of democracy. But as groups like Steal This Protest, the Pastafarians, Sabotage & Dialogue and others show, Phelps’ hate can be diffused.

Lets Keep it Fun, Funny, Clever, Stupid, and Absurd
and avoid the mean, hateful, political, or confrontational.

This is a party not a protest.
This is a celebration not a confrontation.
This is humorous and provocative street theater where we will respond to hate with love, humor and absurdity.

At the San Diego Pride Parade, the Phelpsbots are kept in a specific area with a horse patrol keeping them apart for the parade. The “God Hates <insert noun here>” crowd can bullhorn and shake their huge signs all day as they face the rear ends of the police ponies who um, kinda poop a lot when stationery.

Meanwhile, the publicity-loving, America-hating Phelps family is eagerly awaiting their moment before the Supreme Court:

Shirley Phelps-Roper, a church leader and daughter of Westboro founder Fred Phelps, said her sister Margie Phelps is likely to argue the church’s case before the Supreme Court. Shirley Phelps-Roper and Margie Phelps are licensed attorneys.

Phelps-Roper said it’s God’s will that the church gets to appear before the nation’s highest court. Regardless of the ruling, she said it’s a “win-win” for the publicity-hungry church.

“You know how hard we’ve worked to get in front of them?” she said. “We came to the kingdom for this hour.”…

Westboro’s adherents argue that the First Amendment is designed to protect speech the majority may not want to hear. But Phelps-Roper is ambivalent, noting that man’s law won’t matter much when America meets divine wrath.

“Her destruction is imminent,” she said. Laughing, she added: “And it’s going to be marvelous.”

The Phelps are bughouse loony, and satire and humor are great uses of free speech to point out their utter craziness. With clever counter-protests, rather than matching their hate with anger, the WBC can be handled, cooled and made to go away.

Limiting speech simply because the message is uncomfy sets a dangerous precedent.

And dancing frat boys kinda makes free assembly worth keeping too.

CommunityLaFiga

Late Night: Phelps and Free Speech

The United States Supreme Court has said it would consider an appeal from the father of a slain Marine who hopes to reinstate a $5 million verdict against Fred Phelps’ Topeka-based Westboro Baptist Church.

At issue are rights of free speech versus the right of privacy. Richard Levy, a professor of constitutional law at the University of Kansas told the Topeka Star:

This is a hot area of First Amendment law. There are a lot of issues swirling around this type of case, and the court may feel it should step in and clarify the law.

The SCOTUS ruling could affect state laws designed to curb funeral protests and potentially affect free speech. I don’t like how Phelps protests, I don’t care for what he says in the least; it’s shoddy theology designed for maximum PR. But so what? WBC has the right to say it, in the same way Anonymous has the right to protest outside the Church of Scientology with signs that say “Holy Xenu! Stop the Cult of Greed and Lies!” or morans have the right to march holding placards depicting whoever is president now as Hitler/Stalin/Mother Theresa.

I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend unto to death your right to say it

wasn’t actually written by Voltaire, to whom the above quote is oft attributed; it’s a paraphrase of Voltaire’s attitudes by Evelyn B. Hall, possibly based on a letter the French philosopher wrote to Abbe le Riche in 1770:

Monsieur l’abbé, I detest what you write, but I would give my life to make it possible for you to continue to write.

Free speech–even Phelps’ troglodyte, hate-filled screed–is a necessary component of democracy. But as groups like Steal This Protest, the Pastafarians, Sabotage & Dialogue and others show, Phelps’ hate can be diffused.

Lets Keep it Fun, Funny, Clever, Stupid, and Absurd
and avoid the mean, hateful, political, or confrontational.

This is a party not a protest.
This is a celebration not a confrontation.
This is humorous and provocative street theater where we will respond to hate with love, humor and absurdity.

At the San Diego Pride Parade, the Phelpsbots are kept in a specific area with a horse patrol keeping them apart for the parade. The “God Hates <insert noun here>” crowd can bullhorn and shake their huge signs all day as they face the rear ends of the police ponies who um, kinda poop a lot when stationery.

Meanwhile, the publicity-loving, America-hating Phelps family is eagerly awaiting their moment before the Supreme Court:

Shirley Phelps-Roper, a church leader and daughter of Westboro founder Fred Phelps, said her sister Margie Phelps is likely to argue the church’s case before the Supreme Court. Shirley Phelps-Roper and Margie Phelps are licensed attorneys.

Phelps-Roper said it’s God’s will that the church gets to appear before the nation’s highest court. Regardless of the ruling, she said it’s a “win-win” for the publicity-hungry church.

“You know how hard we’ve worked to get in front of them?” she said. “We came to the kingdom for this hour.”…

Westboro’s adherents argue that the First Amendment is designed to protect speech the majority may not want to hear. But Phelps-Roper is ambivalent, noting that man’s law won’t matter much when America meets divine wrath.

“Her destruction is imminent,” she said. Laughing, she added: “And it’s going to be marvelous.”

The Phelps are bughouse loony, and satire and humor are great uses of free speech to point out their utter craziness. With clever counter-protests, rather than matching their hate with anger, the WBC can be handled, cooled and made to go away.

Limiting speech simply because the message is uncomfy sets a dangerous precedent.

And dancing frat boys kinda makes free assembly worth keeping too.

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Lisa Derrick

Lisa Derrick

Los Angeles native, attended UC Berkeley and Loyola Marymount University before punk rock and logophilia overtook her life. Worked as nightclub columnist, pop culture journalist and was a Hollywood housewife before writing for and editing Sacred History Magazine. Then she discovered the thrill of politics. She also appears frequently on the Dave Fanning Show, one of Ireland's most popular radio broadcasts.