March 3rd, 2011
11:05 AM ET

Opinion: Funeral protest ruling painful but right

Editor's note: Jeffrey Toobin is a senior legal analyst for CNN and a staff writer at The New Yorker magazine, where he covers legal affairs.

(CNN) - The Supreme Court ruled that a Kansas church whose members travel the country to protest at military funerals, holding signs that say "Thank God for dead soldiers" and "God blew up the troops," has a right to continue such demonstrations.

The case was brought by Albert Snyder, whose 20-year-old son, Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder, was killed in Iraq in 2006. The family-dominated Westboro Baptist Church, run by Fred Phelps, protested at Matthew Snyder's funeral to spread their opinion that American deaths in Afghanistan and Iraq are God's punishment for U.S. immorality and tolerance of homosexuality and abortion.

CNN.com talked to CNN senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin about Snyder v. Phelps, which pitted the right of families to grieve in privacy against the First Amendment right to free expression.

Read Jeffrey Toobin's full op-ed about the Supreme Court's decision on Westboro Baptist Church
- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Christianity • Courts • Homosexuality • Opinion • Westboro Bapitst Church

soundoff (75 Responses)
  1. HeavenSent

    People have it backwards. Jesus loves everyone, it's that many folks are lead by evil men not to read His truth, hence hating Him.


    March 3, 2011 at 10:36 pm |
  2. aaron cannizzaro

    Here's my thing who are these people to judge i am 25 yrs old i been a christian since i was 8 and a U.S. soldier since 2008, and the last time i checked the bible said that jesus christ alone will one day judge everyone for there sins. So mr.phelps what makes you think you can have any right to judge? US soldiers who go overseas are the reason you have the right and the freedom of speech which you use. So why take it out on us? not all of us are for this policy to be dropped so find the people that are responsible and protest them and let my fallen comrades rest in peace... the soldier and family are already going thru enough without you putting your 2 sense in... "LORD GOD I PRAY THAT YOU BE WITH ALL OUR FALLEN SOLDIERS AND THERE FAMILIES AND GET THEM THROUGH THIS HARD TIME AND HELP THEM UNDERSTAND THAT ALL THINGS HAPPEN FOR A REASON AND YOU WILL ALWAYS BE THERE. I ALSO PRAY FOR THE SOLDIERS SERVING NOW PLEASE BRING THEM ALL HOME SAFELY......" "AMEN"...

    March 3, 2011 at 10:32 pm |
  3. Kalie

    Does any body realize that the only reason we have the amendments that give us the right to freedom and religion and speech are because selfless people have been giving up their lives for hundreds of years to defend them? If not for our soldiers we wouldn't have the freedoms we have today. Essentially this cult is protesting the very people that gave them the right to protest. Irony is wonderful isnt it?? Be thankful that my fellow marines have the same mind set as I and wont let this scare us away from what we know is right to be done. Try to imagine america with no military.

    March 3, 2011 at 9:11 pm |
    • Iron E

      What? You mean those people in our armed forces are fighting for our rights over in Afghanistan, Iraq, etc.?

      I had no idea that those foreign countries on the other side of the world were doing more to attack our freedoms than our own politicians. No idea at all. What an amazing bit of information.

      March 3, 2011 at 10:45 pm |
  4. honor the fallen

    If you'll do some research you will find that WBC not only protests the funerals of soldiers, but also others. They led a demonstration against the dead miners of West Virginia back in 08 and also the dead people from the 9/11 attacks. They hate everyone......not just a few groups. Anyone that dies can be subject to their picketing and hateful signs. And no, this is not a Baptist Church........I believe they call themselves such for a tax cut.

    To the idiots that can't seem to stop vommitting worthless words, stay off the internet. Churches are not cults. A dictionary could assist you with your stupidity.

    March 3, 2011 at 9:10 pm |
  5. terry faust

    its unfortunate that these people act like this, I can only wonder when a distraught veteran will tke aim at this group of weidos. I t could be bloody but maybe deseved.

    March 3, 2011 at 9:03 pm |
  6. Justina

    I think protests at funerals and weddings must be banned. What normal people could possibly think of protesting at someone elses' funerals? Is this protection of the stupid freedom of speeches again? America's gonna turn into a toxic trash can at this rate. It's like bombing people at funerals and weddings but that's what only terrorists would do.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:54 pm |
    • Jim

      I think it's dangerous to use the word 'normal' when speaking about people. Normal is a bad word in my book.

      March 3, 2011 at 11:00 pm |
    • Nonimus

      "Is this protection of the stupid freedom of speeches again?"
      Stupid freedom?!?
      Where are you from anyway?

      March 4, 2011 at 9:42 am |
  7. HeavenSent

    Are these folks really Christians? Or, just another bunch of non-believers disguising themselves as Bible thumpers.

    March 3, 2011 at 7:18 pm |
    • Something


      They are very rigid, fiery Bible-believers... just a hair's-breadth away from your preachings. I hope you are aware of this...

      March 3, 2011 at 10:52 pm |
    • Justina

      Something, it's easy to be famous by being weird. CNN should report on how all the Christian churches of 2.5 billion people are helping out nations, instead of this.

      March 4, 2011 at 12:21 am |
    • Nonimus

      "...all the Christian churches of 2.5 billion people are helping out nations..."
      Care to rephrase that? I agree that the vast majority do intend to help, but "all", seems a bit much.
      Lord's Army,Army of God,KKK,IRA,Hutaree,etc.

      Well said.

      March 4, 2011 at 9:40 am |
  8. SnakeEyes

    I wonder how so many of the protesters look like they are or could have been gay in their younger days??? No one worse than a reformed abuser, right? Like ex-smokers. Not to say that gay is wrong. I know some gay people who didn't ask for their preference but it is there anyway whether they want it or not. God apparently made them so. I think if these protesters don't like America then they should move somewhere else. I would be willing to donate to Mr. Snyder's legal bills.

    March 3, 2011 at 5:33 pm |
  9. GSA

    Freedom of speech is great and i'm all for it but whether there is a right to do something or not there are always consequences and someone will snap and hand these ppl there heads. They need to remember that ppl have the freedom to be angry and kill as well, there consequences may be jail but if it was one of my family memebers funeral, all bets are off and i'm willing to pay that price.

    March 3, 2011 at 5:14 pm |
    • Nonimus

      "They need to remember that ppl have the freedom to be angry and kill as well..."

      HOLY CRAP! KILL?!?! (yes I meant to yell, damn it!)

      Where'd you get that idea? No one has the right to kill on their own. Read the freaking Const.itution. Freedom of Speech! Nothing about Freedom to kill. Seek help now, please.

      March 3, 2011 at 6:19 pm |
  10. Protest

    All in favor of protesting this monster's funeral when he dies say "I."

    March 3, 2011 at 5:12 pm |
    • Nonimus

      When he dies... what good will that do?

      Protest when he lives!

      March 3, 2011 at 6:13 pm |
  11. More-Ons

    I think what needs to happen, is another group of people should follow these ignorant morons around and holds signs up behind them that says "Blow's Goat's , have pictures" and "God is punishing these people for being stupid." or "They tried to think and nothing happened." I believe in a true, and forgiving God, and I hope they burn in hell for a few thousands years before he forgives them, fueled by the very signs they carried!!!!! And to think our men and women are dying so they can have the very rights they are using, how sad.

    March 3, 2011 at 5:08 pm |
  12. Jill

    Thank you Justice Alito for standing up for what's right. Freedom of speech??!! What happened to our respect for our Americans, respect for our soldiers. So it's our right as Americans to be publicly hurtful and disrespectful? I can't believe this church is getting away with this. I second the motion for a fund to help Mr. Snyder with his legal bills. I'm just so disappointed with our legal system.

    March 3, 2011 at 3:52 pm |
    • Don

      Freedom of speech doesn't mean the freedom to speak only that which the majority states, Jill. It means that even if the speech is distasteful, disgusting, or even "profane", it is protected by property rights (or the lack thereof wrt "public property").

      March 3, 2011 at 4:38 pm |
    • Nonimus

      "So it's our right as Americans to be publicly hurtful and disrespectful?"


      March 3, 2011 at 6:11 pm |
    • honor the fallen

      Also known as harassment.

      March 3, 2011 at 9:13 pm |
  13. signman

    this church should be ex communicated because this is not what the bible and jesus is all about. jesus LOVES not HATES MANKIND NO MATTER WHAT THEY DO ,these people will have to answer to HIM when their time comes to be judged and the book is opened to what they have done. this is totally against the teachings of JESUS /GOD

    March 3, 2011 at 3:48 pm |
  14. signman

    did these so called church going people ever think this–WWJD- if you dont know it means -what would jesus do– in other words do or did these people ever think if jesus was present (AND HE IS) what would he think of these so called people of god and how they interpret the wishes and thoughts of jesus/god !!!

    March 3, 2011 at 3:43 pm |
  15. Robert

    Is there a fund established to help Mr. Snyder with his legal bills? If so, what are the particulars?

    March 3, 2011 at 3:38 pm |
  16. danny stewart

    Heres to Phelps and the whole Westboro herd-I don't know what golden calf or tin idol you believe in-it's surely not the won-
    derful and beautiful God I know and love and have all my faith. You say you are protesting for this god and you are ready to
    fight the good fight. I guess that makes you soldiers too. I wonder how you'd feel or how many people in the world would care if all your soldiers died.

    March 3, 2011 at 3:34 pm |
  17. gretchen

    Please refrain from calling fred phelps' gang of four a "church", as they are not. They are a CULT, and should be treated as such.

    March 3, 2011 at 2:53 pm |
    • Don

      A church is just a large cult.

      March 3, 2011 at 4:37 pm |
    • DavidMichael

      Yes Gretchen, they are a church with "cult" only a pejorative term.

      March 3, 2011 at 7:11 pm |
  18. R Burns

    Right only in the legal sense. Morally this type of protest is absolutely unacceptable. To purposely inflict additional pain on people who are already mourning is, as has been said, inhuman. How is this "church" in any way serving God's will? Religion is all about compassion and making the world a more peaceful place for all to live, not stirring up anger and hatred. Shame on these people. Just because the pain they sustain is not physical violence does not make it any less damaging.

    March 3, 2011 at 1:17 pm |
    • Point of Order

      Religion is all about putting made-up interpretations on real-world events and using made-up reasons to oppress people.
      And killing. Religion is also about killing people.
      The OT is not about compassion, it is about scatterbrained, delusional, and vicious "guidelines" on how to act vicious and arrogantly to other people.
      The NT builds on the OT. Without the OT there would be no NT.
      The NT is also about stirring up hatred and anger. Religion has never made the world more peaceful. EVER.
      That's why these protesters can use the NT without producing new writings. The NT is great for those who want to justify their anger and hatred. Religion is great as a basis for evil. It can be twisted in every direction simply by "interpreting" it that way.
      Just look at these whackos who like to say "God hates fa-gs". They don't really know anything about anything and they don't care about proof of what god wants or even if god exists. They just have this great religion they love to use without examining anything about it. Just like all the other religions in the world.

      Morals have nothing to do with religion and everything to do with people and their arbitrary and capricious social constructs.
      To purposely inflict additional pain on people who are already grieving is totally human and typical of religions in particular.

      Nobody knows "God's will" because there are no reliable sources of information in this area. This is because there is no god as described in any religious text. We have proof of this because there is nothing factual about religions. They do not use facts. They use pseudo-mystical claptrap and require that "believers" stay far away from anything like "proof" or realistic examination of said religion.

      Shame on all religious people for being so gullible and for using their religions to do nasty things. We need freedom FROM religion or we will all die in some stupid "holy war" for no intelligent reason at all. Guaranteed.

      March 3, 2011 at 2:02 pm |
    • Don

      People need to STOP confusing decorum with morality. The protests are NOT immoral; they are merely a breach of decorum.

      March 3, 2011 at 4:36 pm |
  19. Nonimus

    This sounds about right, First Amendment and all.
    Perhaps we ought to consider how much attention we give them though.
    "What's interesting is only the press coverage hurt people. According to the testimony of the family, they saw the protest as they were driving by. Only after they saw the press coverage did they realize how ugly the protests were."

    March 3, 2011 at 11:21 am |
  20. Kevin

    Can't they be arrested for disturbing the peace?

    March 3, 2011 at 11:19 am |
    • Nonimus

      "...the result was not particularly controversial, when you consider the protest did not disrupt the funeral at all." from the article

      March 3, 2011 at 11:23 am |
    • Mike

      There might just be a little too much tolerance for this sort of thing. Maybe it is time for leaders to lead and judges to judge.

      March 3, 2011 at 9:40 pm |
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