Wednesday, October 06, 2010

A Right To A Quiet Funeral: The First Amendment Protects Synder Over Phelps

A family funeral in a small town (not in this case)
Funerals are both religious and expressive events. The surviving family have an unquestionable right to determine which, if any, religious rituals are performed, and to express their feelings and messages.

The attention-seeking Phelps family seeks to overturn this principle in the case of Snyder v. Phelps. They assert their right to intrude upon private funerals to promote their message; the Snyder family stands for normal, mentally healthy Americans in demanding that the Snyders have no such right.

The issues have been summarized as
  1. Whether the prohibition of awarding damages to public figures to compensate for the intentional infliction of emotional distress, under the Supreme Court’s First Amendment precedents, applies to a case involving two private persons regarding a private matter
  2. whether the freedom of speech guaranteed by the First Amendment trumps its freedom of religion and peaceful assembly;
  3. whether an individual attending a family member’s funeral constitutes a “captive audience” who is entitled to state protection from unwanted communication.
How this will turn out in the courts is anyone's guess. There are, unfortunately, some rather foolish people defending the Phelps' on First Amendment grounds. But this should not be a close case; the protesters claim that their right to speech overrides the speech and religious rights of the Snyders, which is absurd.

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