Like It Or Not, Your Constitution Protects Westboro Baptist Church

Lots of articles today about the controversal  Supreme Court decision regarding Westboro Baptist Church.

One of the better reads here.

After the ruling, Margie Phelps, a member of the church who is also a lawyer, and who argued the case forcefully for years on behalf of Westboro Baptist, told CBS Radio News what she would like to tell the Snyder family now that they’ve lost their case. “This was a fool’s errand. It was un-American as anything you could have done. That boy is still dead…. Now get down on your knees, mourn for your sins, repent and obey,” cackled Phelps, the lawyer, the despised victor in a constitutional showdown they’ll be talking about until the next military funeral case gets filed in federal court. 

Like it or not, your constitution protects her. And if we all liked everything about what the Constitution promised, or required, or even permitted, it would be a greeting card or an anthem instead of a touchstone. It ought to be reassuring, not depressing, that the fabled document so clearly and roundly protects a creep like Phelps when he displays the sort of crap members of his family display when they shamelessly seek out opportunities for free international publicity. Reassuring — and certainly more instructive about the way the Constitution really works than anything Justice Antonin Scalia might have been able to gin up to a group of lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

I Am Pleased With Supreme Court Ruling Regarding Westboro Baptist Church

I am pleased with today’s Supreme Court decision.

I have blogged several times about this matter of the First Amendment and the vile nature of those from the Westboro Baptist Church who protest funerals, and almost everything else.  It is hard to be on the same side as the Westboro Church, but the First Amendment dictates I stand here.

This crazy band of people think they are doing the Lord’s work by trashing gay people and anything that smacks of gay rights.  That they are truly unhinged is not the issue.  

The issue is the First Amendment, and the need to protect it.

I know, as I have personally confronted these nuts from Westboro.   While they crave publicity, I desire to see the First Amendment left alone.  Therefore, I applaud the Court for its ruling today.

As awful and deplorable as the Westboro Baptist Church and their nasty members are, the more important idea to focus on is the reason that free speech matters.  Having faced these people in Madison while voicing my disgust at them I know the two-way street that is protected by the First Amendment.  As disturbing as Fred Phelps and his tribe prove to be almost daily, we have nothing to fear from this type.  It would be far more chilling and disturbing to place restrictions on free speech.

As a result of today’s ruling we all can be proud of the strength of our democracy……even Fred Phelps who sees gay people everywhere has to be pleased with how the process works.

While I feel deeply for those who are taunted and smeared at funerals by the boorish behavior of this group, it is necessary that we not allow these anti-gay zealots to inflict a change to the free speech laws of this nation. We are strong minded enough to turn away from the Westboro Baptist Church, and ignore their presence.  As a result the protesters fail to get the attention they crave, and the First Amendment remains strong.

The issue from the start has been the First amendment, and how it protects even the most outrageous of speech.

CNN reports on the decison.

A Kansas church known for its angry, anti-gay protests at funerals of U.S. troops won an appeal Wednesday at the Supreme Court in a case testing the competing constitutional rights of free speech and privacy.

In an 8-1 ruling, the justices said that members of Westboro Baptist Church had a right to promote what they call a broad-based message on public matters such as wars. The father of a fallen Marine had sued the small church, saying those protests amounted to targeted harassment and an intentional infliction of emotional distress.

“Speech is powerful. It can stir people to action, move them to tears of both joy and sorrow, and — as it did here — inflict great pain. On the facts before us, we cannot react to that pain by punishing the speaker,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the majority.

At issue was a delicate test between the privacy rights of grieving families and the free speech rights of demonstrators, however disturbing and provocative their message. Several states have attempted to impose specific limits on when and where the church members can protest.

Thoughts About John “Sly” Sylvester And The ‘Tone’ Of Radio

This past week Wisconsin has been talking about the words used by a radio broadcaster from Madison who verbally took off on a Republican statewide officeholder.  Mocking her colon cancer, and making outlandish sexual statements makes me wonder what is next for our radio airwaves. 

As such there has been a dialogue in the state, and elsewhere about what was said, and what should now be done about it.  On this blog I have been called everything from a socialist, fascist, champion of small government, and proponent of big government concerning my call for cleaning up rancid talk on radio.  That none of those labels make sense concerning me or my views, and all seem to steer the debate into a political corner far away from the direction I have taken this issue, is perplexing.  

Over the past week I have read and heard much about John ”Sly” Sylvester  and his poor judgement while on the WTDY airwaves.  There have been those who defend him, and even used the free speech argument as their foundation.  A faulty foundation, I might add, but used all the same. (I will discuss that below.)

Then there are others, like myself, who want Sly off the air for abusing the standards we expect from broadcasters. 

This week as I read and listened to the frothy back and forth one thing kept coming back center stage.  No one was talking about radio itself,  about the ‘tone’ we want to hear on our radio airwaves, or the standards we want honored by those who hold broadcasting licenses.  No was asking about why our public radio airwaves have become angry places as opposed to the friendly ones that I recall from my youth. 

I think these concerns about radio are very legitimate to consider.

I still recall as a kid the time my mom was not pleased to hear the word “damn” used by a politician in a news actuality.  She felt there was no need for cursing on the airwaves, and that it sounded bad.

I need to add that I am 48 years old  and grew up in middle America like most of my peers.  I mention this to show that there was a time, not so long ago, when broadcasting standards were a desired thing.  Listeners noticed things that ran counter to the expected norms.

I remember telling my mom I did not think the word usage was out-of-bounds.  She held to her belief that people who were educated could find word choices that did not offend, especially on the airwaves.

She was right of course.

What I could not see as a child was the turn being taken in radio broadcasting, a curve that was long and unseen due to the length of its arc.  Little by little standards were about to be lowered in radio broadcasting that would ‘allow’ for someone to go on the airwaves in 2011 and talk about false sex acts by an elected officeholder.  Worse yet the announcer who makes such statements on the radio expects to get away with it. 

My mother would he shocked.

We all should be shocked.

Yet some are not.

Some are trying to hide behind the First Amendment when defending the words shock jocks use on radio.   Others have chided me for not caring about the First Amendment when I added my call for Sly to be reprimanded by the FCC for his on-air actions.

Let me say there is no defending what took place this past week on WTDY with constitutional armor.

Let me use the Westboro Baptist Church as my example.

I have expressed on CP that anti-gay Westboro Church is repulsive in every sense of the word.  I have stated that concerned citizens need to surround the Westboro members and block their impact when they picket funerals.  But I have also stated that I hope the Supreme Court does not rule against these crazed bigots when it makes a decision later this year about the constitutionality of their right to speech.

As disturbing as Fred Phelps and his tribe prove to be almost daily, we have nothing to fear from this type.  It would be far more chilling and disturbing to place restrictions on free speech.

That I stand on the side of the First Amendment is not in doubt, even when the anti-gay foulness of this group is aimed at guys like me.

But Westboro is not doing their deed on the public airwaves that are licensed for use by the federal government to broadcasters.  Broadcasters MUST adhere to certain guidelines.   Guidelines that are well-known by the license holder that need to be abided by.

The guidelines for use of  our airwaves should have some meaning. Every letter of the regulations should be honored. Call me old-fashioned, but that is just how I think.  Having worked in government I fully understand there is no way to defend half a law or regulation and pretend the part we do not like can be disregarded.

So there is NO constitutional question about free speech when it comes to what Sly did on WTDY last week. If Sly wants to mouth off on the street corner, or write a book, or even blog he can have it. If someone tried to stifle him at any point in the public square, or on-line he would be advocated for on my blog. Not for content, but for his right to free speech.

There are those who contend I am biased when it comes to the issue of  Sly and only oppose those I do not like.   That  is not true.

This is not about friend or foe. This is about the character of radio. It is about the quality of what is on the airwaves that the public owns. 

I am one who bounces on Rush Limbaugh and others when I hear of antics that go against not my politics, but the grain of good taste and decency that should still apply on the airwaves.


Somewhere along the line common sense was dumped for ratings in some radio stations up and down the dial.  We all can find evidence of that when we roam the AM dial.  

The question is how to remedy it.

There are laws and actions by the FCC, of course.  They might or might  not work, and besides that all takes time.

Therefore, I have a quicker remedy.

One that I know something about.

When I worked in radio nearly 30 years ago (yikes!) I wanted to be more effective when broadcasting from the WDOR studio in Sturgeon Bay.   I had several small picture frames containing images of my nephews, parents, and a close friend.  I often had one of them on the console in front of me when announcing the news or weather report.  I was aiming the tone of my delivery as I would if back home chatting over the dinner table.  (I was always the one that wanted to break the latest news and such to family, and that was one reason I wanted to work in radio.)

That the WDOR FM signal reached down to Milwaukee at night, and I spoke to listeners from there often, I knew there was more to my job than just being the average, everyday neighborhood DJ.   I felt a bigger responsibility to do my job in the best way I could.

I was not only representing myself on the air, but also the station.

Being a friendly neighborhood broadcaster now seems quaint, and probably even deadly for what too many program directors seek out when playing for ad revenues.

Yet I think if more broadcasters had a picture of their family on the studio console they would find it hard to spout rancid talk over the airwaves.  They also might find the listening audience would respond positively to civil talk and the higher standards of broadcasting that my mom desired.

Arizona Blocks Protests At Funerals By Westboro Baptist Church

Good news…..and one can not say that much these days.

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer has signed into law emergency legislation to head off picketing by a Topeka, Kan., church near the funeral service for a 9-year-old girl who was killed during Saturday’s shooting in Tucson.

Unanimous votes by the House and Senate on Tuesday sent the bill to Brewer. It took effect immediately with her signature Tuesday night. The new law prohibits protests within 300 feet of a funeral or burial service.

The radical Westboro Baptist Church earlier announced plans to protest the funerals of the victims in the Tucson shooting.

Rep. Daniel Patterson said Tuesday that there is a lot of political disagreement that goes on at the Capitol but on this day he said both Republicans and Democrats were coming together do the right thing.

Elizabeth Edwards’s Funeral To Be Picketed By Anti-Gay Freaks

This is just bizarre.   And so wrong.

Westboro Baptist Church announced that they will picket the funeral of Elizabeth Edwards on Saturday.

That one has a First Amendment right does not mean the common sense button gets pushed off.

Why the anti-gay zealots from Westboro Baptist Church, out of Topeka, Kansas want to make a mess of the funeral for Elizabeth Edwards is a mystery.  But then when it comes to this group of genetically deformed misfits there is no logic to any of their antics. 

That the huffing and puffing from the  Westboro Baptist Church might not even be noticed due to a counter-movement at the funeral is the reason this post goes up tonight.

In the meantime, Raleigh residents are organizing their own protective measures, with at least two counterprotests planned to put a human buffer between Westboro Baptist picketers and the mourners. “Regardless of your politics, it’s just downright rude to bring a protest of this sort to disrupt the mourning process,” a group called Line of Love wrote on its Facebook page to organize volunteers.