Unless you are living under a rock, you probably know that Fred Phelps believes “God Hates Fags.” Today, his right to say that at funerals–specifically, in this case, dead servicemembers’ funerals–finds its way to the Supreme Court in the case Snyder v. Phelps.
The case has attracted a lot of attention and its worth looking at some op-eds in the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and Wall Street Journal. For an excellent preview of the case, check out National Public Radio’s lengthy story by Nina Totenberg.
The issue is a complex and, as a former Supreme Court reporter, it’s interesting to see who filed “amicus curiae” (friend of the court) briefs in the case. On behalf of the servicemembers’ family was a bipartisan group of 40 Senators, veterans’ groups, and 48 attorneys general. In support of Phelps were briefs by First Amendment groups, the American Civil Liberties Union, journalists groups and media companies (including the New York Times, National Public Radio, Bloomberg, the Newspaper Guild, Dow Jones, and Associated Press), and the conservative Liberty Counsel. Missing are any LGBT organizations.
Journalists groups raise concerns that allowing damages against unpopular speakers who allegedly create “extreme emotional distress” could be used against media organizations. As the traditional protectors of the First Amendment, the media groups say:
Reporters, editorial boards, commentators, authors, and others in the press discuss both public and nonpublic figures in the course of their work. “One need only pick up any newspaper or magazine to comprehend the vast range of published matter which exposes persons to public view, both private citizens and public officials.”Time Inc. v. Hill, 385 U.S. 374, 388 (1967). Whether it consists of coverage of caustic and emotional debates, a scathing editorial cartoon, a letter to the editor, or an exposé revealing disturbing facts about an individual, the press often must go “beyond the bounds of good taste and conventional manners” in order to perform its constitutionally protected function. Hustler Mag. v. Falwell, 485 U.S. 46, 54 (1988) (citation omitted). Itcan do soon l y because the First Amendment protects expression on matters of public concern, particularly where such statements cannot reasonably be interpreted as stating actual facts about an individual.Id. at 50; Milkovich v. Lorain Journal Co., 497 U.S. 1, 20 (1990).
Let us know what you think about the coverage.