Anonymous, Westboro and free speech.


UPDATE: Anonymous isn’t going after WBC

Or are they? That’s the problem with anonymity and a free-form organization that isn’t an organization…how do we know which announcement represents them or if there’s a ‘them’ to represent? It’s pretty silly, really.

Original:

Let me be perfectly clear:

The activities of the Phelps family and their Westboro Baptist Church are some of the most vile, repugnant and disgusting exercises of free speech in history.

That said, they’ve recently been warned by Anonymous that:

“ANONYMOUS cannot abide this behavior any longer. The time for us to be idle spectators in your inhumane treatment of fellow Man has reached its apex, and we shall now be moved to action. Thus, we give you a warning: Cease & desist your protest campaign in the year 2011, return to your homes in Kansas, & close your public Web sites.
Should you ignore this warning, you will meet with the vicious retaliatory arm of ANONYMOUS: We will target your public Websites, and the propaganda & detestable doctrine that you promote will be eradicated; the damage incurred will be irreversible, and neither your institution nor your congregation will ever be able to fully recover. It is in your best interest to comply now, while the option to do so is still being offered, because we will not relent until you cease the conduction & promotion of all your bigoted operations & doctrines.

The warning has been given. What happens from here shall be determined by you.”

Even some of my friends are rooting for Anonymous…after all, the Phelps clan is beneath contempt.

I’m not rooting for Anonymous, and I’m shocked that any thinking person is.

Despise the Phelps’ protests all you like, but they are operating within the law and have repeatedly gone to court to protect the freedom of speech that we all enjoy. Anonymous, on the other hand, seem to have appointed themselves as the moral conscience of the planet and have decided to dictate what sort of free speech should be permitted.

This group of anonymous hactivists are not only breaking the law, they’re attacking free speech while claiming to revere it. They’ve taken it upon themselves to be the sort of Orwellian authority that one would presume they’d be opposed to.

They’re hypocrites – and dangerous ones.

I really don’t like coming to the defense of the Westboro Baptist Church and yet I’m forced to do it over and over again because well-meaning but misguided people stupidly attempt to attack them for exercising the same freedoms that the rest of us are exercising.

Now, this blog may vanish tomorrow – but I won’t be cowering to terrorist threats just because they’re made against someone I despise.

Comments

  1. says

    I really wish I could side with Anonymous on this. I mean, I'd love to see WBC implode in a fiery ball of shame and hilarity, as most of us would. But this isn't cool.

  2. says

    It's funny how people always miss the concept of "the anonymous".They aren't a group.These threats and announcements do not come from an organisation of any – ANY – type.Think of the announcements like open invitations to a party for everyone who agree with it's designated activity.Everyone – even you – can write up such an announcement and post in online, er, anonymously, and then sit back and watch the fireworks as random people who agree with the message join it without any vote."The anonymous" is you and I, and everyone else who has read the announcement.In this instance the writer was some brat looking for anything to attack and directed his hate there.It would probably just amount to an aggressive online protest with possibly minimal vandalism.But my hope is enough people are smart enough to sit on the side of free speech and not participate at all.

  3. says

    Heck yeah Matt, you tell them! Whoever 'they' are… You beat bad speech with better speech. You beat nasty hate-mongers with compassion and decent behavior. You don't stoop to or below the level of the people you disagree with.

  4. Martin says

    paavo: Well, come on, man, you don't get groups of guys parading in V for Vendetta masks (the use of which Alan Moore has angrily repudiated) without some level of organization. As spontaneous as flash mobs are, even they require someone to get the ball rolling and a lot of people to plan and pull them off.I love the fact that society has gadflies and culture jammers and people who make it their business to be thorns in the side of The Man. But what concerns me about the Anonymous gang is that they seem to be the kinds of people who grew up reading too many superhero comics and identifying with them a bit more than is ideally healthy. I know a few folks who have attended some of the rallies and protests they've thrown, and without exception they've reported that Anonymous were douchebags to a man. I wonder how much of what they do is based on really caring about a just and free society, and how much of it is just self-satisfied superhero LARPing. Stunts like this lead me to think the latter is more in play.Anyone who think Mike from the video in the preceding post is a raging jerk — at least he's not these guys.

  5. Martin says

    Of course, I could always gain a modicum of respect for them if they were to adopt as their official slogan: "Anonymous — Douchebags To A Man!"

  6. says

    The WBC is a joke. As a member of the gay community who was watching these people long before they hit the national spotlight, I find it amusing (and asinine) that they only started receiving attention from the majority of America when they started protesting military funerals. They aren't breaking any laws (and no knee-jerk reaction laws should be made to stifle them) and have every right to be as hateful and ignorant as they care to be. They are no different than any other group of Christians that think we (atheists and/or gays) are going to hell; they are just more honest about their beliefs and more honest about the abject hatred that's in their holy book. I really wish the liberal Christians (Christ-lite) would recognize themselves in the caricature of Christianity that the WBC represents. I say let WBC do what they want. The more people rail against them, the more power they have. Ignore them.And "Anonymous" needs his ass kicked for suggesting violence toward them (and, yes I see the irony in that statement).

  7. says

    My immediate reaction on hearing that Anonymous was targeting WBC was delight and popcorn-grabbing. As usual, trust Matt D. to point out how my gut reaction is not exactly the law of the universe.

  8. says

    The worst anyone labelling themselves Anonymous is going to do is slightly annoy groups of people like this for a short period of time.The only time I've ever seen any Anonymous effort effectively made an impact on someone is when it's against individuals whom they think are worthy of ridicule, often children.Can anyone think of anything that's made an actual impact on the thing Anonymous has been claimed to be targeting?They'll annoy WBC. Then they'll realise it's having minimal impact and they'll get bored. Like they always do.I agree with Matt that they shouldn't be doing it, and I support anyone who gets caught being punished. But in the end their net effect will be some mildy annoyed but quickly over it fundamentalists and a bunch of self back patting among technocowards.

  9. says

    Whether the Anonymous threat is real or not, the WBC is only laughing at them right now. There is no way that the WBC hasn't heard all the possible threats by now.The people of Anonymous are weak if they can't stand up face to face.If anything, this is only making the WBC stronger. The WBC already think that everyone is doomed to Hell no matter what they do. Thus, their rants are only a 'look what I have and you don't' kind of thing. They should be ignored and eventually they will go away. Threats and counter protests only let them no that we are listening, and that's all they need.Yes, I know they make some people feel very upset, but they're going to do it anyways, because we keep listening.Or, I might be wrong. I'm actually somewhat on the fence about it, but this idea is what I keep coming to.

  10. says

    Martin: sure, some groups of individuals get together to plan their approach.But never in any organised manner, leadership or group make-up.Much like atheism is not an actual group and has no leader, yet we flock to our individual interests.We just need to march to Washington with Sagan masks on :)

  11. says

    Is this "threat" anything more than angry childish posturing? I can't tell. I certainly get the angry part…but are we just jerking them off by reacting to their statement as if it's actually threatening to anyone?

  12. says

    "Anonymous, on the other hand, seem to have appointed themselves as the moral conscience of the planet and have decided to dictate what sort of free speech should be permitted.This group of anonymous hactivists are not only breaking the law, they're attacking free speech while claiming to revere it. They've taken it upon themselves to be the sort of Orwellian authority that one would presume they'd be opposed to."How does an anonymous group of hackers become an "Orwellian authority" ? The 1st Amendment is there to protect citizens from *governmental* restrictions of free speech, and Anonymous likely would defend the 1st Amendment.And, let's face it. Every thinking person who pays attention to contemporary issues knows the WBC and has heard their message ad nauseum. They have enjoyed more free speech rights than any other group in the country. And they have now crossed the line as far as another obnoxious group of activists is concerned, who have 'threatened' them with a nebulous campaign that seems to involve hacking their web site.Dear me, I am going to faint from the horror of anticipation that the most despicable group of religious assholes in the country, who have caused a large amount of real personal anguish to untold innocent bystanders year after year after year, might finally get a very small payment in kind from real people in the real world. When Nazis march in Jewish neighborhoods it's important that they are confronted with people willing and able to punch them in nose. That's a valid and proper response to assholes deliberately going out of their way to cause pain to innocent and helpless victims. Protect their 1st Amendment rights? Absolutely! Put up with deliberate injury indefinitely without responding in kind? Nope.

  13. says

    The Westboro Church has always been a great moral quandary of mine.I've been busy as shit lately on only just caught up on the last 3-4 months of the atheist blogs and youtube channels i follow. One of which was TheoreticalBullshit's "Treaties on Morality" which is probably the best and clearest explanation of secular morality i've ever heard. In it he basically defines morality and right and wrong as being the the objective classification of actions which move us towards or away from unnecessary pain and suffering, health, welfare, well-being, happiness, love etc. (before or if you want to argue that definition, you should actually watch his video as i've basically condensed 30 minutes of rhetoric into a single sentence)A right to free speech though they may have, doesn't (i think) excuse them from the consequences of what they choose to do and say.At what point does Fred Philip's right to free speech basically become him walking towards somebody waving his arms around like a windmill and saying "I have the right to wave my arms around and if you don't get out of the way its just to bad?"Fact: Through actions such as picketing funerals, these people ARE causing unnecessary emotional pain and suffering. Whilst they have a right to free speech, they are intentionally causing unnecessary harm by acting in the manner they are.

  14. says

    (continued)If something is clearly and demonstrably morally wrong by any useful definition (which i think most people here would agree the actions of Westboro are, or we wouldn't be so bent out of shape about it in the first place), shouldn't you work towards stopping it? I mean, how is simply falling back on "they are operating within the law" any different to someone in the 17th century using the same argument to justify the keeping of slaves? Given new data on how the law can be abused, is it perhaps time to amend the law? (I mean, the right to free speech is actually an amendment itself isn't it? Changes and revisions do occasionally need to be made) Perhaps then Matt you wouldn't have to spend so much time defending groups whose sole purpose is to perpetrate acts you know are clearly and disturbingly morally wrong (and this isn't meant as a personal jab at you, this is i think a serious point). Rights do have limitations and I'm sure there would be a way that we could add additional limitation that could leave them the right to basically say what they want to say, whist reducing the effect of suffering they cause to specific individuals and families who they intentionally and outwardly single out to humiliate, antagonize, and hurt. Some steps have already been taken, such as making a 300 foot perimeter around the some funerals and the such like. Should we perhaps take more steps in this direction?I want to be clear on this. I don't really have an answer to this quandary which is why i bring it up. I'm not an expert on moral philosophy or american constitutional law. I enjoy free speech (even if i don't agree with what some people say) and I certainly don't condone vigilante justice as Anonymous seems to be doing (the very fact that Phelps at least has the balls to put his name and face to his actions makes it even worse in my opinion), but are there conditions under which the Law that protects these actions breaks down (such as yelling fire in a crowded theater or posting naked pictures of your neighbor on the internet without concent) to the point where the rest of society should step in and say "This particular conduct is not conducive to a successful, happy, egalitarian society" and shut it down? And if so what are those conditions? Anywho, those are some of my thoughts on the issue…

  15. says

    This is pure vigilantism. Let's round up a posse and go out and string up those varmints. I enjoyed Anonymous vamping on Scientology and rooted for them supporting Wikieleaks; but this is ignorant, misguided showboating. Phelps's people do more harm to themselves with their hate mongering than Anonymous could ever do. All that has been accomplished has been more publicity for WBC.Incidentally, this is not a first amendment issue, unless Anonymous is actually working for the government.

  16. says

    ANONYMOUS is less of a hero of justice, and more of a force of shear blind power.When we're talking about the WBC, they stir up so much hatred that well meaning folks say things that absolutely floor me. In the sane world, they're just a necessary annoyance of free speech. A legal bending of the rules to stomp them out would be an atrocity to freedom, I make it a point to jump to WBC's defense in legal matters (when they're in the right, but just dicks)I'm torn on this subject. I'd never want a cop to take a kid to jail for flipping him off, but in the same breathe I wouldn't mind a bigger jerk taking the kid in the back ally for a minute and "reminding" him how the cops are a flawed force for good, but a force for good none the less; and they don't deserve the added stress of dill holes using free speech to treat them like shit. If ANONYMOUS is going to flex it's muscles in a little street justice, the WBC are probably the best targets to choose. But like I said, I'm torn.

  17. says

    Matt: Right on, man.I applaud Anonymous for their efforts against the Church of Scientology – illegal methods to take down organized crime – but I cannot support a campaign of what amounts to graffiti and/or destruction of property against the WBC in response to their hateful, bigoted rhetoric.Now, if Anonymous were threatening to hold counter-protests wherever the WBC did, or if they were threatening to block visibility of the WBC from funeral processions (like I remember hearing a group of bikers did at one point), then I could definitely get behind them, but that doesn't seem to be the threat here.Murphy: Words hurt peoples' feelings, true. How would a law curtailing the Phelps' activities be any different, from a legal standpoint, from Ireland's anti-blasphemy law?Note: Ireland's anti-blasphemy law deals with blasphemous speech presented in public which is likely to cause emotional outrage in a substantial population.

  18. says

    "Murphy: Words hurt peoples' feelings, true. How would a law curtailing the Phelps' activities be any different, from a legal standpoint, from Ireland's anti-blasphemy law?"Sure, words hurt peoples feelings. But we both know the world isn't so black and white as to simply compare this situation to blasphemy laws. I could just as easily ask you, at what point does "words hurting peoples feelings" become harassment or psychological torture? Would putting a stop to those things be the same a a blaspheme law?There are plenty of people out there who say allot bad things about homosexuality. I don't like what they say at all, but i'm fine with the open discourse of the subject. And if that was all Phelps and Westboro were about, fine… Phelps doesn't stop there however, and you know this. He singles out innocent individuals in an attempt to personally and very publicly humiliate, antagonize, terrorize and hurt them. He isn't making a point about homosexuality doing this. He is unnecessarily stringing out his victims personal pain and suffering to his own twisted ends.I think this is less like a persons rights to blaspheme, and allot more like a person right to intentionally defaming, slandering and harass a completely innocent bystander, which in fact there are laws against in America (and australia where I'm from).As i said, i'm not pretending i have an answer to the problem. I just think it is a mistake to continually give the man carte blanche to do whatever the fuck he wants under the guise of free speech. There are such things as bad laws and even loopholes in good laws, and i'm thoroughly sick of hearing people defend him base on him simply acting within the bounds of the law, knowing full well that what he is doing is still clearly wrong.

  19. says

    Here you go Matt D. Its been reworded so to be the kind of free speech you can defend."WBC cannot abide this behavior any longer. The time for us to be idle spectators in your disobedient treatment of Jesus Christ has reached its apex, and we shall now be moved to action. Thus, we give you a warning: Cease & desist your homosexual enabling in the year 2011, return to your answers in Genesis, & close your minds to reason.Should you ignore this warning, you will meet with the vicious retaliatory wrath from God : Jesus will target your children's funeral, and the propaganda & homosexual doctrine that you promote will be eradicated; the damage incurred will be irreversible, and neither your institution nor your agenda will ever be able to fully recover. It is in your best interest to comply now, while Salvation from Jesus is still being offered, because we will not relent until you cease the conduction & promotion of all your fag loving doctrines.The warning has been given. What happens from here shall be determined by you."

  20. says

    I know the following is going into slippery slope fallacy territory.Lets change the scenario and play a game of lets pretend.Imagine that "anonymous" had decided that the ACA were endangering the immortal souls of countless millions. ACA's activities although perfectly legal were repugnant to them and "anonoymous" were going to use their power to 'kill off' the ACA.When you don't defend one groups legally exercised freedom of speech you have endangered everyone rights.

  21. says

    So the message of the collective who openly advocates "AnonNews uses an open-posting concept. Anyone can post to the site, and moderators will approve relevant posts. No censorship takes place!" is roughly "Y'all need to shut the fuck up WBC!"?Lulzy.

  22. says

    @RaymondI think (almost) everyone here is in agreement that Anonymous is doing something wrong. Vigilantism is not how these situations should be handled.But as a completely separate issue, if the ACA's activities (however legal as they may be under current law) involved causing intentional harm and suffering tantamount to psychological abuse against specific grieving families of dead christian children by publicly picketing their funerals because they hate religion, I'd have to wonder if those rights were actually worth protecting.What about the rights of Phelps' victims? The boundary of the right to free speech falls well short of being able to inflict this sort of personal abuse on others.

  23. says

    I thought the world was going to end soon anyway because god would not want Shirley to take over the WBC after the old man passes away. She's a woman, after all. Seriously, though, the closer Fred comes to the grave, the more spastic and frenzied their dispatches become. As sad as it would, is there anyone that thinks a mass family suicide is out of the question?

  24. says

    What the WBC does is repulsive and hypocrite indeed. I am all for freedom of speech, but their propaganda really is destructive and provoking.I think this is also kind of a moral issue. What does society gain by their rioting? All they want to do is provoke in places where people are on edge so they can sue people and earn more money. The current law is their only boundary. I don't know Matt… is it really this black and white? I mean isn't it better to "attack" their websites before some real violence occurs? Not claiming here… just asking.

  25. says

    Here here! I loath WBC,but I also loath self elected authorities of morality and free speech.We live in an age where ideas themselves must be stringently contested and compared. A 1984-ish attempt to pre-edit bad ideas is not the way to go.In attempting to censor bad ideas,we strip the opportunity to expose and build immunities to them.

  26. says

    The best action towards WBC is legal counter-protest, and even when they use the WBC protest to stage a donation towards the thing they're protesting.

  27. says

    I'd say if people want to pay attention to the loons at the Westboro Baptist Church, they should do it in the way Charles Firth, an Australian comedian from The Chaser did – swing by one of their protests and hit on one of the male protesters. I bet they would have even more trouble rounding up a crowd to go by and picket funerals and generally cause offense if they were pursued everywhere by guys hitting on them..

  28. says

    Why would you want to get rid of the WBC anyway. I think that the best thing Anonymous could do is switch the WBC wesite with.. say… the Vatican website.I wonder if anyone would notice the difference.

  29. says

    @MurphyYou said "What about the rights of Phelps' victims?."In my scenario, the ACA are damning the imortal souls of potentially millions. From a theist point of view that is far worse than any of the activities that the WBC are indulging in.So I ask you "What about the ACA's victims"You are wanting to pick and choose what is free speech on the basis of your own biases.The point that I make is that whether someone is "stepping over the line" is not decided by the harm that it causes but its legal status. If you want to change the law because the harm is too great, that is another matter.Many legal actions can cause harm; alcohol, tobacco, driving. Its the level of harm that society is willing to take for the benefits. Its a quid pro quo.If you want free speech you have to be prepared to accept some of that speech may be offensive and upsetting to you or someone you care about.

  30. says

    The Depressed Reader said…"I'd say if people want to pay attention to the loons at the Westboro Baptist Church, they should do it in the way Charles Firth, an Australian comedian from The Chaser did – swing by one of their protests and hit on one of the male protesters. I bet they would have even more trouble rounding up a crowd to go by and picket funerals and generally cause offense if they were pursued everywhere by guys hitting on them.."This is win. Maybe not grope the people, but yeah. LOL…

  31. says

    Despise the Phelps' protests all you like, but they are operating within the law and have repeatedly gone to court to protect the freedom of speech that we all enjoy.Actually, it's the other way around. They provoke grieving people at funerals so they can be attacked. Then they sue these people to win money. They're not in for the free speech, but for easy money. It's trollish, it's childish and they should be stopped.

  32. says

    The WBC has responded to Anonymous with a letter of their own. In brief, they say "Bring It." I've posted it here:http://johannthecabbie.blogspot.com/2011/02/anonymous-declares-war-on-westboro.htmlNow, I agree with all who say Anonymous is wrong. It is an attack on free speech, and free speech is, um, sacred.But, I hate WBC. They are heartless cruel bastards who spend their time bullying people. I'm all for someone bullying them back. Besides, think of the lulz.I say go for it, Anonymous.

  33. says

    As much as I detest the actions of the WBC, I know they are protected under the first ammendment. This lead me to read the NTIA 1993 report on hate crimes which helped to form some of the definitions of hate speech that we have today.In part it states that hate speech is protected under first amendment unless it can be shown to contribute to hate crimes, and even then action may not be taken by the government because the speech is seen as an "advocacy of illegal action at some indefinite future time."Section A, beginning on p. 48, covers first amendment considerations and reaches the conclusion that …The best response to hate speech is more speech to educate the public and promote greater tolerance, rather than government censorship or regulation.Section B, starting on p. 57, covers legal remedies and states that while government can and does enact laws prohibiting some forms of hate motivated activity … evidence of illicit motive is an essential element of the crime and must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt in order to secure a conviction.section 2 (p. 62) states that the victim of hate-based conduct will likely have a better chance of obtaining relief via a civil suit … monetary damages are not the only remedy in a civil action. An injunction can also be issued to bar perpetrators from continuing offensive conduct in the future, whether against the plaintiff or any member of the plaintiff's group.With the conclusion again being that government action should be encouraging the private media industries to produce and disseminate programming to counter messages of hatred and prejudice, and to educate their audiences about the destructive impact of intolerance.So, keep up the good work ACA.( Oh, and don't forget to tell the government it is their job to support you. :) )

  34. says

    I agree with the general sentiment here; I despise WBC for their message, but I recognise that they have a right to it. On the other hand; it would be fun to watch them struggle against an anonymous attack…

  35. says

    I'm with Matt on this. I find what the Phelps group says to be despicable, but until they break the law, it'd be hypocritical of me to say I think they should be "stopped". I can't help but think that, conversely, there are probably plenty of people who would find some things I have to say about religion "despicable" too. If I expect them to allow me to say what I want to say as long as I'm not breaking the law, then it'd be hypocritical of me to applaud when the Phelps' get their tires slashed or are unlawfully stifled by having their website or other property of their vandalized.

  36. says

    Dear Phred Phelps and WBC Phriends,So we've been hearing a lot about some letter that we supposedly sent you this morning. Problem is,we're a bit groggy and don't remember sending it. Our best guess is that you heard about us on thatnewfangled TV of yours and thought we might be some good money for your little church.You thought you could play with Anonymous. You observed our rising notoriety and thought youwould exploit our paradigm for your own gain. And then, you thought you could lure some idiots into ahoneypot for more IPs to sue.This is not so foreign to us; as you may have heard, we trade in Lulz. You just do not have enough tooffer right now.While Anonymous thanks you for your interest, and would certainly like to take a break and have somefun with you guys, we have more pressing matters to deal with at the moment.But, we will keep this application on file, and will certainly contact you if any openings becomeavailable in future.Next time, don't call us. We'll call you.Additionally, as your "Press Release" failed to understand: When Anonymous says we support freespeech, we mean it. We count Beatrice Hall among our Anonymous forebears: "I disapprove of whatyou say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."Do some among our number hate you and your cynical exploitation of your human rights for monetarygain? Of course. But the MoralFags are also the first to admit that they are, in fact, your rights toexploit.In closing, let us assure you: We are not BAWWWING sissies, nor are we afraid of your false god;we're just really busy. Stay tuned, and we'll come back to play another day.We promise.http://anonnews.org/?p=press&a=item&i=494

  37. says

    @Matt D, When i read the anonymous post my first reaction was the same as yours. I agree that taking vigilante action is inappropriate, even more so when you take to dictate the morals too. However, i did want to consider the point that maybe the law isn't (or at least should not be) the final arbitrator of when free speech has been breached or stifled. Most (if not all) moral principles have their boundaries/limitations… i think that the only the question is ‘what criteria should we use?’ Often the right to life is curbed by the right to self-defence, the right to free choice is curbed by removing others' right to decide, and equally the right to free speech is curbed by incitement to hatred or harm. Could it be argued that the Westboro Baptist Church is doing just that, even if it falls within the law? Isn't the law subject to a higher ground of reason & social morals? To be fair, i am not sufficiently familiar with the activities of the WBC to really know if they have breached this line, nor am i convinced nor advocating that they have. But i do think that this issue does deserve some thought so i just wanted to put it out there.

  38. says

    I actually joined some of the Anonymous anti-Scientology protests. Before going to my first protest I thought that Anonymous were a group of principled individuals standing up to corruption of the Co$. I came away from my second protest realizing that they were just a bunch of teenagers who found a way to bring Internet trolling into the analog world.

  39. says

    @Akili:This isn't JUST about the fact that anonymous are breaking the law. Personally, it's more about being honest with myself and not wanting to be a hypocrite. I don't think people should be barred from speaking simply for the reason that their speech causes emotional harm to someone else, even if in this case the speech is especially vile and noxious. I just feel like if I revel in the fact that the WBC are being attacked for what they have to say, then I'm letting my emotions get in the way of what I really believe about free speech.

  40. says

    Y'all do know by now that Anonymous has posted a response, basically saying this was PR by Phelps or a stunt by someone else – http://thedailywh.at/2011/02/20/follow-up-of-the-day-5/They even commented to the media "To the Media: Just because it was posted on AnonNews doesn’t mean every single Anon is in agreement, in fact in this case it doesn’t even mean a single Anon is in agreement. Next time, if you could give us a few minutes to put all our paperwork in order, we’ll be sure to let you know what we’re up to. (LOL)"So, pretty much a nonstory.(this is pretty much what Rogi posted above. He/She quotes the actual release)

  41. says

    @Raymond“In my scenario, the ACA are damning the imortal souls of potentially millions. From a theist point of view that is far worse than any of the activities that the WBC are indulging in.”Your scenario isn't relevant. That was my point. The right to make statements about your ideas on religion (or gays) in the public forum, is not the same thing as singling out an individual grieving family for the purpose of waging a personal campaign of public harassment against them. Its just not. And unless you dream up a hypothetical situation (like the one I made for you) in which the ACA is doing the same thing as Westboro, you can't make a comparison between the two.“The point that I make is that whether someone is "stepping over the line" is not decided by the harm that it causes but its legal status. If you want to change the law because the harm is too great, that is another matter.”That IS the point i'm making and have explicitly made several times if you care to read back over my posts. I'm all for free speech, but as far as i'm concerned that requires some kind of discourse. It shouldn't be a blanket right that gives you carte blanche to do whatever you want. If your idea of free speech protects the right to publicly harass and torment a grieving family by picket their 9 year old girls funeral, then count me the fuck out. That's a right I don't need, and I think its pretty clear that if this kind of antisocial behaviour is protected by law, I that law needs reviewing.

  42. says

    @Sparrowhawk, “I don't think people should be barred from speaking simply for the reason that their speech causes emotional harm to someone else…” Generally I would agree, but that was not the point I was making. Threats to your physical wellbeing as well as slander and/or harassment, I think constitute as limits to free speech. If the WBC are advocating for the exclusion of segments of our society or the preventions of certain groups from being able to access their full civil rights on the bases of no other reason than ‘I believe this is the right thing to do’ then I think they have gone too far in their rights to free speech. I think that the type of actions we take is a separate issue altogether.

  43. says

    @MurphyYou said "I'm all for free speech… It shouldn't be a blanket right that gives you carte blanche to do whatever you want"I never suggested you can do whatever you want and claim free speech right.There are limits to free speech. I just think that we should be very careful about expanding the limits.

  44. says

    Just wanna say, I love the discussion so far. Even if this does turn out to be a nonstory as far as whether or not Anonymous is doing this, I'm enjoying this.Akili and Murphy have made a point I can't ignore and has given me some pause. At what point does something like targeting a specific family/funeral constitute harassment?

  45. says

    While my limbic system is rooting for Anonymous, the rest of my brain is not. I have to agree with the sentiment here- Not cool, Anonymous. Not cool.

  46. Xtylish says

    The thing is, Anonymous isn't tackling or even advocating free speech… they're saying, 'We don't like you so we're going to fuck you up.' Which is exactly what their enemies do. They go to funerals and fuck shit up by being pricks. They're just being given a taste of their own medicine and I think it's great. There's no impact on free speech here at all – if these bible thumpers can't defend themselves from cyber attacks then that's their own weakness and free speech is not a shield for bigot's websites. They have the stomach to do what they do? Then they can have the brawn to protect it, if not… then I don't mind one bit at their sick site being messed about by hackers. I rather like it, in fact.

  47. says

    @Xtylish,I think I have to disagree with you here. The method employed by Anonymous (if really true) is quite anti-free speech and quite harmful for future prospects. I mean to say that I like the idea of someone standing up to scientologists and protecting Julian Assange from the government for publishing wikileaks, but Anonymous seem to have no code of conduct, merely a whim of what they seem to think is moral or not. Can you challenge their ‘ruling’ when you disagree? Can you take them before an independent higher power to seek remuneration? If not then I would argue that they are acting just as any other dictator would, benevolent or not. To explain this point: They are claiming to be the sole and final arbitrator of who is going to be punished and who is not. Kim Jong-il, the supreme leader of North Korea, has expelled Kim Jong-hun, the national football coach, from the workers party and threatened to execute him for letting the country down and betraying Kim Jong-il by not winning the world cup. Now, you could say that it is the football coach’s fault that he cannot withstand the life threats of the supreme leader, just as if “these bible thumpers can't defend themselves from cyber attacks then that's their own weakness”. And you can also argue that Kim Jong-hun is immoral as he let down his entire nation, just as the WBC are immoral because “they go to funerals and fuck shit up by being pricks”. But would you really? We might be in agreement that WBC is immoral and reprehensible. I might even agree with you that they may have gone too far in exercising their freedom of speech to the point of inflicting harassment, hate crimes, incitement, and many more… But does that give Anonymous the right to seek personal vengeance? And make no mistake about it, seeking vindictive penalties is exactly what this is. If you have no legal or social authority to inflict this punishment, no pre-agreed moral principle to govern the decision, and no accountability for your actions, then you are acting just like any other dictator in the world today. This is a slippery slope argument as the question then become who will they target next? Who do they find offensive now? What reason do they have for it and what can I do if I disagree with that reason? I, myself, have now become a victim of potential future abuse without foreknowledge or ability to appeal. Is this really the social state that we would like to collectively live in? I think not.

  48. says

    The civil suit against WBC filed by the family of a dead soldier is now before SCOTUS. The family was awarded $5 million in damages for invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The decision was overturned on appeal on First Amendment grounds, so now it's before SCOTUS.I'm all for this kind of approach. WBC has the right to free speech, but if invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress by speech alone are established torts, this is the way to go. I suppose that's why SCOTUS is considering hearing the case: can speech alone inflict legal invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress? Or is speech always protected?If the judgment is upheld, it would bankrupt WBC, but Fred and Shirley Phelps would still be liable for damages. Good.

  49. says

    I'm seeing a lot of comments from people that are upset about the things "anonymous" has been up to. There is no "Anonymous" group. That's an oxymoron. There is no leadership or hierarchy and no organization. It's an angry anonymous mob that shrinks or grows depending on the hour. @Martin The Guy Fawkes masks and protests were not actually anonymously organized. Basically, posts were made on several sites that use forced anonymity calling for interested people to join. Most of the organization occurred on Facebook, which is not anonymous obviously. To stick with my angry mob analogy, it's like someone walking up to an angry mob with fliers and convincing a few of them to show up to a meeting later.

  50. says

    @ßronoI'm surprised anyone would ask the question. Not withstanding that evil begets evil and you'd be doing the very think you despise Phelps for, what pray tell would you be looking to gain, or even claim to be protesting in aid of? Either way, my answer would be no. I absolutely despise the man and everything he stands for, but in the event of his death, I think his family's right to pay their respects and bury their loved one in peace, should trump your right to be a vindictive fucking arsehole. Even if the law currently disagrees with me.@Patricia"I suppose that's why SCOTUS is considering hearing the case: can speech alone inflict legal invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress? Or is speech always protected?"I'd have thought this question was answered by virtue of the fact that we already have laws against slander and sexual harassment. Clearly not all speech is protected.

  51. says

    Murphy,Can you give an actual example of WBC intentionally inflicting injury through their speech? You haven't done so yet.PatriciaI'm on pins and needles to see how Snyder v. Phelps turns out. It's my moot court topic. For my part, I will be very disappointed I SCOTUS sides with Snyder. WBC took every step to make sure the protest was legal, and Snyder didn't even see the protest the day of the funeral!

  52. says

    @Soul BiscuitNot withstanding that I've mentioned multiple times that I think the action of picketing a funeral actually goes a little further than just speech, I'm really not quite sure what you're getting at.By "intentionally inflicting injury through their speech" do you actually mean “intentionally inflicting physical injury that can bee seen with the naked eyethrough their speech” (which would be kindof a silly qualifier up there with crocoducks) you would ofcourse have to throw out all notions of things like sexual harassment too, because no physical harm no foul right? If you do accept that there is such a thing as psychological harm, I would have thought any of the grieving families (mentioned ad nauseum in my previous posts) that have had to suffer through Westboro's targeted campaign of public harassment would qualify as an examples. Certainly the family of aforementioned Marine Sargent Albert Snyder would disagree with you that no harm has been done, to the point where they've apparently taken the matter to the supreme court.As I said, I'm not entirely clear what you're getting at. If you care to clarify I may be able to draft a better response.

  53. says

    @Murphy,You bet. I'm sorry, I could have been clearer.By injury, I mean legally recognized injury. Of course, emotional distress is such an injury. The key word in my question was "intentional." It's not enough that WBC show up at funerals ("near" funerals would be better, as they were 1000 feet away from the Snyder funeral). They have to intend to do harm. I was asking you for evidence that WBC intends to inflict harm on the inviduals whose funerals are being inflicted.The reason the Snyder case is so interesting is that it deals with a specific kind of action to which the FIrst Amendment defense has never been applied yet: intentional infliction of emotional distress. Up until now, freedom of speech has been a common defense in cases of defamation. If certain requirements were met, for example, that the speaker sincerely believed the truth of its speech or that the target of the speech was a public figure, the person trying to collect damage would have to prove the speaker knew the speech was false. It's a very heavy burden of proof. Whether that test applies to intentional infliction of emotional distress is not yet clear.In any case, I don't think it would be possible to show to a legally meaningful standard that WBC intentionally harms people. They believe what they're preaching, and they believe they're doing God's duty. The First Amendment was ratified to protect just that sort of speech.And as for Snyder's funeral, WBC was a thousand feet away, dozens of bikers from the Patriot Guard blocked them from view, and no one remembers seeing any of the signs until the evening news days later. Snyder's case is paper thin. If it weren't for the hatred that WBC has (rightly) attracted nationwide, I doubt the district court would have ruled for him.

  54. says

    @Murphy, you're right. I'm also very interested to see if infliction, etc.,by speech will be upheld, as it never has before. I rather agree that I think that infliction of emotion distress, by speech alone may not be a tort.It'd have the very bad side effect that almost anyone could claim it, even if the speech is just offensive to their sensibilities.And, there is a chance that, in this particular case, WBC is so hated that SCOTUS (or at least some of the justices) will decide this solely on the basis of who the defendants are, which would be disastrous.Well, OTOH, we do have sexual harassment, hate speech, and all that, and perhaps WBC's ravings might fall under one of those banners. If it is a tort, at least WBC would get bankrupted (of course, they will just re-group elsewhere).

  55. says

    @Christopher Petroni (Soul Biscuit?)I should preface this by saying “sorry this has turned into war as peace”. I guess the points you raise are the kind of issues that can't be addressed with one sentence answers. I've read back over this several times now and i'm sure there are still plenty of mistakes, but i've spent to much time on it already have have to move on to more pressing matters… like my job ;P I just hope all my points are clear and without to much fluff. Also, regarding the parts I highlighted, I don't usually like doing that, but I figured if people were going to probably skim over it due to it length I should at least highlight the main points I was trying to make. No other reason that that.Before I go into addressing your individual points (and there are a few and they all took me a while to figure out my thoughts), I'll try to answer your main question, because I think it will be pretty simple, short(ish) and sharp. No, I can't give you an example of injury based on your definition of the term. As it currently stands according to most of you guys (and the fourth circuit court of appeals) its obviously not currently legally recognised. That's just a fact, and i'll admit that.To be honest though, I don't think your definition is very useful at all. Taken to its extreme on a situational basis, how would this definition hold up for example, if i drew a scenario where I water board you in my basement? There are no witnesses, and there are no outward signs left on your body of physical abuse or struggle, so you can't really prove anything. Its a pure he said she said situation as far as the court is concerned. The court is not legally recognising your injury, therefore by your definition no injury has been caused.This is obviously slightly different as it deals with the practical application of already existing legislation, but I think it's clear that its much more useful to take a broader more commonly agreed on definition of the term (like any regular dictionary definition) and based on that, yes, there is absolutely injury being done, then the argument becomes whether that injury causing action should be legally recognised as wrong, which has been my point all along. Its even possible that supreme court may overturn the decision (and I hope they do) in which case they will be setting a legal precedent where it is recognised, but either way I don't think that what is current codified in legislation should serve as your sole definition as to what and/or who is in the right or wrong. Otherwise as I alluded to in my very first comment in the thread, nothing at all would change and we'd still have slavery. Codified laws should be dictated by what is right and wrong, not the other way around.

  56. says

    So onto the next point. We seem to have a massive disconnect as to what we each consider free speech despite the fact that I've tried to clearly explain my stance multiple times. They believe Obama is the antichrist. They hate fags. They thank god for dead soldiers. All unpopular positions, but as you eloquently said, the First Amendment was ratified to protect just that sort of speech, just as it protects my right to free speech that lego technics is *awesome*… however I don't believe that right to free speech extends (or as the case may be “should extend”) to me coming around to your house and shouting about the new lego catalogue at the top of my lungs all night long outside your bedroom window so you don't get any sleep.I've tried to explain my position so many times and so many ways now that I'm at my wits end, and I don't think I can break it down any simpler that this. I don't wanna fuck with Phelps or anyone else's right to say what they wish in the public forum. I just think this is more an issue of social conduct, common decency, personal harassment, ethical behaviour and public menace than it is an issue of free speech. I recognise there is some overlap between these areas, but they're not even close to being as intrinsically entwined as so many keep implying in this argument. I think the main reason for this is that people have trouble separating the vile things Phelps says (which are necessarily protected) from the vile things he does against targeted individuals (which aren't or shouldn't necessarily be protected) which is why the situation sounds so different when you frame it in terms of lego. I think Phelps can quite happily have his right to gay hating free speech, without running a public harassment campaign targeted at some poor individual family, by usurping and turning their funeral and lives into into an unwanted proverbial media circus, complete with fascist unicycle riding polar bear, and gay hating clown car.

  57. says

    This segues into the next point. What is the intent? As any Australian, I enjoy a good beer (or 10), and that is perfectly legal, but what is the intent of a drunk who gets behind the wheel of a car? To get home? Is that intention even remotely relevant when he runs over and kills and young mother crossing the street with her child? I pick that one because it is the most obvious, but the same argument could apply to just about any societal breach you like. Does the macho douche bag mean to intentionally make his work colleague uncomfortable through repeated and unwanted sexual advances? What about somebody that forges medical certificates with the intent of healing others only to kill person after person on the operating table? I don't know what the law on this would be in America, but here in Australia, if you shoot somebody with the intent of wounding them, but they end up dying, even if you actually got a lackadaisical judge that decided to rule in favour of manslaughter with the intent of grievous bodily harm, here that could (and probably would) still carry the same 25 year gaol sentence as first degree murder.The road to hell is paved with the best intentions, and we hardly ever rule (as a matter of law or common ethics) based solely on that. Especially where actual harm and damages are being demonstrably shown to be done by one party against another. Suites related to campaigns of harassment and defamation (in Australia anyway. I can't speak to American law) are no different. As feverishly as they believe what they're preaching, and believe they're doing God's duty, even they can't possibly be naive enough as to think they aren't doing harm against those people they single out for harassment, so at the very least they're aware but complacent. It seems far closer to sexual harassment (which doesn't really stipulate the harasser's intent as long as they're causing harm or discomfort by their actions) than it does defamation (which you say is stipulated base on intent, but must have radically different legislation in America than it does here. I work in television, and our news anchors have to be very VERY careful about what they say and how they say it. Even when relaying public statements made by third parties, character and legal damage can still be done regardless of intent. Ignorance in Australia doesn't buy you legal clemency) Whether that harm is Westboro's primary intent or not (I suspect their primary intent is simply to make a lot of noise) is largely irrelevant. As long as they have actively and intentionally hijacked these grieving peoples lives to use as their personal media vehicle for hatred, they are responsible for the personal injury they cause to those individuals along the way. Now, legally this may represent a very real practical problem in America, where we in the rest of the world hear countless horror stories about Jehovah's Witnesses and Christian Scientists killing their kids through neglect, and basically for getting off scott free on the grounds of their right to religious practice, but I doubt he'd get away with that shit in Australia, and from a purely ethical viewpoint of free speech limitations Vs harm done to targeted individuals, I personally don't think it would be any harder to establish a burden of proof that shows to a legally meaningful standard that Westboro harms people through these targeted harassment campaigns, than it would be to show harm done to a legally meaningful standard in sexual harassment cases. Antagonist's primary intent be damned in either situation.

  58. says

    Finally we get into the actual case of Snyder Vs Westboro. I had a quick look but it didn't really find much about the events of the funeral itself, so I don't know the finer details of what happened that day, but I see no problem in taking your version of events. The first thing I'll say about it is that whilst the Synder incident has become very high profile due to the court case, lets not forget that its isn't the only one. According to that ever reliable source of information “wikipedia”, Westboro picket anywhere up to 6 locations a day (obviously not all funerals). Some of the funerals they've picketed (particularly the earlier ones. Such as when I first remember seeing Michael Moore make videos about it back in the 90s) didn't have the 300f zone. The Westboro folks are right there in the mourners faces for their heckling pleasure. I've seen the footage of this. Its not a pretty thing.Even with the now commonly defined 300f no protest zone, that is still only about 90 metres for those of us in metricville. That's not out of earshot of shouting distance. Certainly not out of seeing distance. And I doubt ever out of mind, which I think is the important part in all of this. The fact that in the case of Synder they were 1000 feet away and hidden from view of the mourners by bikers from the Patriot Guard on the day, obscures the fact that there was still a vicious campaign of public harassment that meant the Patriot Guard had to do what they did in the first place. I think Snyder's father Albert, summed it up perfectly:“They turned this funeral into a media circus and they wanted to hurt my family. They wanted their message heard and they didn't care who they stepped over. My son should have been buried with dignity, not with a bunch of clowns outside."I think the most important part in that quote is where he says “They wanted their message heard and they didn't care who they stepped over.” Free speech mandates that Phelps and his miscreants have the right to say what they want. It doesn't mandate that others have to listen, and when they launch a vicious campaign to hijack other peoples lives and misfortunes, stringing them out into a public media spectacle of personally directed hatred to force them into listen, they overstep their mark, and in my opinion the intended meaning and limitations of the free speech laws. When I read back over this paragraph I even surprised myself. When you word it like that, this kind of behaviour actually does border on the dictionary definition of terrorism.Add to that (according to wikipedia, though lacking citation probably due to it no longer being on the westboro site) that WBC posted an "epic" on its website which denounced Albert Snyder and his ex-wife for raising their son Catholic, stating they "taught Matthew to defy his creator", "raised him for the devil" and "taught him that God was a liar". its pretty hard to see this as anything other than personal. When all is said and done, perhaps there is still no grounding for any protection from this kind of thing now or ever under American law, and the first amendment really does in fact give you carte blanche to basically do whatever you want, but I fail under any useful definition of “targeted campaign of harassment” to see how the conduct of Westboro wouldn't apply.

  59. says

    @MurphyI fear this will be somewhat scatter shot! I apologize for that.When you drink and get behind the wheel of the car, your culpable mental state is not intent, but recklessness. You are aware of the risk of harm your action poses (or the law presumes you aware), and yet you undertake that activity anyway.Under the law of defamation, recklessness with regard to whether your speech is true or not is grounds for a damages award. This standard has never been applied on its own to intentional infliction of emotional distress based on speech, which is why Snyder v. Phelps is so interesting.You call the Phelps' protests a campaign of harassment. How so? These protests are nothing more than 3-5 people standing on the street holding signs and singing obnoxious songs. No one has to look at them. In the Snyder case, no one COULD look at them, because they were shielded from view.And as you aptly point out, the Church presents the same message at all of its protests, often many times a day. In what sense are the protests targeted at specific individuals if they're displaying the same message, even the same signs, wherever they go?Finally, their speech can't be proven reckless (or even negligent), unless you think courts are capable of instructing the jury to find out whether God exists, and if so, whether he does in fact hate fags. These things are not capable of being proven true or false in the context of the law. Add that to the fact that these are sincere religious beliefs, and you have no basis for finding fault.Some Western countries have broad prohibitions on certain categories of speech, such as Holocaust denial or promotion of Nazism, or "hate speech" in general. In the United States, we've been very suspicious of such broad swipes at the freedom of speech. To approach WBC's protests as you advocate would be to allow the state broad power to censor speech that the majority finds distasteful.

  60. says

    @Christopher PetroniScatter shot indeed…When you drink and get behind the wheel of the car, your culpable mental state is not intent, but recklessness. You are aware of the risk of harm your action poses (or the law presumes you aware), and yet you undertake that activity anyway.As the law also presumes recklessness (or some other equivalent legal term) in the case of harassment and defamation. As I said, I don't know what the laws are in America, but here in Australia ignorance does not buy you legal clemency from the damage you cause. Intent or not.Under the law of defamation, recklessness with regard to whether your speech is true or not is grounds for a damages award. This standard has never been applied on its own to intentional infliction of emotional distress based on speech, which is why Snyder v. Phelps is so interesting.I would argue in the case of sexual harassment it has already been shown that intentional (or “presumed recklessness” if we can at least agree on that) infliction of emotional distress can be based solely on speech. Maybe Joe Douchebag really does have a horse sized 'appendage', but whether the harassers speech is true or not has no bearing over the fact that harassment is taking place. In fact, truth statements don't even need to be made at all. Joe Douchebag could just be repeatedly asking is target out to dinner again and again and again. Its not a great step to get from there to Phelps's conduct. Which is why I keep using the word harassment despite the fact that you keep using the word defamation. There are similarities to be sure, but its not the same thing. Which is why I actually use the words I do and not the ones you try to paraphrase with.

  61. says

    You call the Phelps' protests a campaign of harassment. How so? These protests are nothing more than 3-5 people standing on the street holding signs and singing obnoxious songs. No one has to look at them. In the Snyder case, no one COULD look at them, because they were shielded from view.Ok so its come to this….tar·get·ed   /ˈtɑrgɪt/ Show Spelled[tahr-git] Show IPA–noun2. any object used for this purpose.5. an object of abuse, scorn, derision, etc.; butt.–adjective10. that is or may be a target or goal: The target group consisted of college graduates who earned more than $50,000 a year.–verb (used with object)11. to use, set up, or designate as a target or goal.12. to direct toward a target: The new warheads can be targeted with great precision.13. to make a target of (an object, person, city, etc.) for attack or bombardment. cam·paign   /kæmˈpeɪn/ Show Spelled[kam-peyn] Show IPA–noun2. a systematic course of aggressive activities for some specific purpose: a sales campaign.of    /ʌv, ɒv; unstressed əv or, especially before consonants, ə/ Show Spelled[uhv, ov; unstressed uhv or, especially before consonants, uh] Show IPA–preposition6. (used to indicate specific identity or a particular item within a category): the city of Chicago; thoughts of love.9. (used to indicate the objective relation, the object of the action noted by the preceding noun or the application of a verb or adjective): the ringing of bells; He writes her of home; I'm tired of working.ha·rass·ment   /həˈræs, ˈhærəs/ Show Spelled[huh-ras, har-uhs] Show IPA–verb (used with object)1. to disturb persistently; torment, as with troubles or cares; bother continually; pester; persecute.2. to trouble by repeated attacks, incursions, etc., as in war or hostilities; harry; raid. Now if your definition of “targeted campaign of harassment” has a bunch of additional qualifiers. Like there having to be more than 3-5 people. That the harassers need to be seen at a certain place, at a certain time, on a certain day, by certain people. That all other correspondence before and after a specific day doesn't count. That there must be pitchforks and touches as well as signs. That there must be alien probing experiments. That there must be a man with a funny moustache and spinning bow-tie. Etc… then sure. Its not harassment.To me the classifications of this set of actions seems unmistakably clear, but if any standard set of dictionary definitions isn't good enough for you, then I really don't know what else I can say.And as you aptly point out, the Church presents the same message at all of its protests, often many times a day. In what sense are the protests targeted at specific individuals if they're displaying the same message, even the same signs, wherever they go?Really? A nude model in an art studio is not the same thing as a flasher in the street ok. You can't equate the situational context as being identical because the messages on the placards they hold are the same. That would be a compositional fallacy.

  62. says

    Finally, their speech can't be proven reckless (or even negligent), unless you think courts are capable of instructing the jury to find out whether God exists, and if so, whether he does in fact hate fags. These things are not capable of being proven true or false in the context of the law. Add that to the fact that these are sincere religious beliefs, and you have no basis for finding fault.No. Just no ok. I don't know how may times I can say this: their right to free speech isn't even remotely relevant to this situation. I am an atheist. I see no evidence of a god and I find religion to be harmful and divisive. That's my right to believe and say. When I fire somebody for being a Christian, the court doesn't have to establish whether my beliefs about religion and the universe are true, to determine that harm has legally been done. Joe Douchebag may really believe he's gods gift to women. The jury doesn't need to be instructed to find out whether this belief is actually true to determine whether sexual harassment has taken place. Did Manson really believe in helter skelter? Were the jury instructed to determine if helter skelter really existed?Likewise Phelps' beliefs about god and his actual statements about gay hating aren't relevant in determining whether harassment has taken place against a family who's funeral he targets. What you're arguing for here is completely asinine.Some Western countries have broad prohibitions on certain categories of speech, such as Holocaust denial or promotion of Nazism, or "hate speech" in general. In the United States, we've been very suspicious of such broad swipes at the freedom of speech. To approach WBC's protests as you advocate would be to allow the state broad power to censor speech that the majority finds distasteful.I've said it again and again so I don't know if you didn't bother reading what I've written, or you're just being intentionally obtuse. What I'm “advocating” is not about freedom of speech at all, but about protecting people from harassment. Not once have I mentioned or even alluded to a state board power to censor ideas that the majority finds distasteful, so please don't try to put fucking unicorns in my mouth. What I'm talking about is legal limitations for an individuals right to protect themselves should they be the target of directed bullying and harassment by other individual(s). The message content is irrelevant. Westboro can gay hate. They can deny the holocaust, and promote Nazism, or general “hate speech” if they wish. They have the right to say their message, I don't think they have the right to try and usurp the lives of other unwilling participants as a means of publicising that message. You have a right to free speech, not a right to fuck with other peoples personal and private lives.

  63. says

    @Murphy,I have been reading what you've written. Perhaps you should question whether you're communicating effectively. I'm wondering whether I'm failing to do so, because you seem repeatedly to fail to grasp what I'm trying to say.Despite your unflattering allegations, I have not failed to grasp your point that whether the Church believed its speech or not has no bearing on whether their activities are harassment. This is undoubtedly true. (Though in the U.S., even if their speech amounted to harassment, the First Amendment right of free speech may give them a defense.) I don't think I ever claimed otherwise, though if I did I happily retract. If the Church's activities meet the legal definition of harassment, then they can be held liable for harassment. I don't know the legal definition of harassment, unfortunately. Do you?I spent time on defamation because most of the U.S. Supreme Court cases on free speech deal with it, but I noted also that the test the Court applies has been used for claims of intentional infliction of emotional distress, which is what the Church is being sued for in the Snyder case. (Not harassment, notably.) That test is one of "actual malice:" the plaintiff can't recover damages if the speech was made with knowledge that it was true, or with reckless disregard of whether it was true or false. (No, recklessness is not presumed in a defamation case. At least, not in the U.S.) It therefore matters tremendously whether the Church believed its speech sincerely. If they believed it, they did not have knowledge that it was false. Similarly, because the speech implicates their religious beliefs, it would be difficult to find them reckless, because religious beliefs generally can't be proven true or false in a courtroom.I'll try to sum up:In a suit of, say, harassment, the person bringing the suit has to prove the legal elements of harassment. If you wanted to sue WBC, you would have the burden of proving that their activities meet all the requirements of liability for harassment. The content of the Church's speech has no relevance to a claim of harassment.The Church, of course, probably wouldn't sit idly by and hand over a damages award. Since its activities are centered on speech, it would (and does) raise a First Amendment defense, claiming that its speech is protected. As you aptly pointed out, this defense has nothing to do with the legal definition of harassment. It's simply a shield the Church tries to raise against liability. In cases where the defense has been applied (up to now, only for claims of defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress, which is why I've made much of them), the Supreme Court has usually required that the plaintiff prove that the speech was false and that the defendant was somehow at fault. I've argued that the Church was not at fault, because it believed its speech was true and there exists no way for its beliefs to be objectively verified. The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed in the Snyder case.So, in short, the Church's speech doesn't have anything to do with the harassment claim, but everything to do with the First Amendment defense it raises against that claim.

  64. says

    (Crap. I meant to cut the first three paragraphs; I was a bit annoyed at your (Murphy's) rather insulting tone, and I wrote them mostly in that mood. This continuation may be a bit repetitive.)Which brings us to your repeated imputations of harassment to the Church. You seem intent on characterizing the Church's campaign as one of harassment. Here's the argumentum ad Webster you posted:ha·rass·ment   /həˈræs, ˈhærəs/ Show Spelled[huh-ras, har-uhs] Show IPA–verb (used with object)1. to disturb persistently; torment, as with troubles or cares; bother continually; pester; persecute.2. to trouble by repeated attacks, incursions, etc., as in war or hostilities; harry; raid. To disturb persistently. To bother continually. To trouble by repeated attacks. Here's what you have not established: Who is the church disturbing persistently? Who is subject to repeated attack? As far as I can see, the Church protests at one place, moves on, and protests somewhere else. How is that harassment?Can I ask what legal training you might have? I'm not trying to claim authority, because I only have a semester and a half of law school, but I've noticed that you seem largely ignorant of free speech law in the U.S. (Not surprising, of course, and I don't mean that pejoratively; your grasp of American law is certainly stronger than my grasp of Australian law.) A lot of the things you're arguing against are settled law. I'm not sure you really understand the nature of the Church's activities, either. They generally show up to places, stand around for a few hours, and then go somewhere else. If that's harassment, then all those anti-globalization protesters are guilty of harassment, all those tea-baggers are guilty of harassment, and so one. You would make the right of the people peaceably to assemble into harassment.

  65. says

    Oh no. I could have sworn that the first part of my post was published, but now it seems to be gone. So the angry three paragraphs I mentioned above don't seem to exist, nor does the rest of what I typed.Sorry Murphy; I'll try briefly to recreate the first half of my post so the second half (what you see above) makes sense.Let's imagine that the Church showed up near some event you had arranged, adorned as always in full "God Hates Fags" resplendency. You decide to file suit for harassment. If your suit goes to court, you will have to prove that the Church's conduct meets all the legal elements of harassment. As you correctly observed, freedom of speech has nothing to do with whether the Church's activities are harassment.Even if you can prove this, however, you might not necessarily win. The Church can (and does) raise the First Amendment as a defense. If certain conditions are met, you must not only prove that they have harassed you, but also that their speech was false and that they were somehow at fault. In my opinion you wouldn't be able to do this. The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals agrees with me on this in the Snyder case, but then the District Court ruled the other way. We still don't know what the Supreme Court will say.After reading this, my above post should make a little more sense (I hope). And again, I really don't mean anything offensive by asking about what legal studies you might have done. (Though, as you pointed out, what one intends and what results are not always the same!)

  66. says

    Sorry Chris, the spam filter has some problems it and ate your posts. I've freed them but you might get some duplicates now.

  67. says

    Thanks Russell! I almost wish you hadn't resurrected my first post, though; it was both poorly written and muddied by petulant whining. I apologize for that, Murphy. If you're still interested in this exchange (I hope you are!) you'd probably be better off ignoring the post beginning "I have been reading what you've written" and just go on to the next two, in which all the same points are put more concisely.

  68. says

    @Christopher PetroniI sincerely apologise if I got a bit carried away with myself in the last reply. I just get really agitated when people claim I'm advocating something which I'm clearly not (or at least I think I'm clearly not). I don't like broad government censorship any more that you do. In what I advocate, the government would serve as no more than an arbiter of mediation, for grievances between two individual parties, as in any other civil action, but the individual would have more rights to protect themselves from harassment.I'll start off by just saying that I'm a layman. I really can't pretend otherwise. My official training is actually in fine arts, majoring in painting and sculpture, and I now work in television commercial production, in roles ranging from direction, editing, graphic design, animation, camera operation etc. That being said I'm probably more well read than average Joe in the street. But I'm not a law expert by any stretch of the imagination.I think we're much more on the same page now, which means it should be allot easier for us to point out our objections to each others arguments. The two most glaring at this point I think, are the limitations and boundaries on how far free speech reaches and what constitutes harassment. Specifically in this case, have Westboro committed harassment, and is that still covered by free speech.”Despite your unflattering allegations, I have not failed to grasp your point that whether the Church believed its speech or not has no bearing on whether their activities are harassment. This is undoubtedly true.[sic]If you wanted to sue WBC, you would have the burden of proving that their activities meet all the requirements of liability for harassment. The content of the Church's speech has no relevance to a claim of harassment.[sic]As you aptly pointed out, this defense has nothing to do with the legal definition of harassment. It's simply a shield the Church tries to raise against liability. In cases where the defense has been applied (up to now, only for claims of defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress, which is why I've made much of them), the Supreme Court has usually required that the plaintiff prove that the speech was false and that the defendant was somehow at fault. I've argued that the Church was not at fault, because it believed its speech was true and there exists no way for its beliefs to be objectively verified. The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed in the Snyder case.[sic]So, in short, the Church's speech doesn't have anything to do with the harassment claim, but everything to do with the First Amendment defense it raises against that claim. Would I be jumping to conclusions based on some of the things you've written here that you (at least to some extent) agree with me that the charge that Westboro have committed harassment has little to no relevance with their first amendment right to free speech? So why are they able to use it as a defence at all? This is my problem. Free speech should give you free speech. It shouldn't give you carte blanche to do whatever you want, but as best as I can see, that's exactly what you claim it does in the American first amendment.”(Though in the U.S., even if their speech amounted to harassment, the First Amendment right of free speech may give them a defense.)”

  69. says

    The most striking this about all of this is that I am becoming deeply deeply concerned that an atheist (and i'm making a fairly bold assumption that you also align with the skeptic movement) would think this situation is a good thing. This idea that Phelps and his band of wingnuts can do what ever they want including harass people, and its all protected by the first amendment right to free speech, unless you can legally prove his god doesn't exist, sounds (to an admitted layman in a country on the other side of the world) remarkably like a legal version of Carl Sagans invisible garage dragon! The dragon exists until you prove it doesn't.In Australia we don't have a bill of rights. We don't have a first amendment. We don't have a constitutional right to free speech. What we have is an implied right to free speech. What this means is that you can still say whatever you want, but what you say (and do if you want to extend the first amendment to cover actions as well) has consequences. There is no get out of gaol free speech card. In other words, for all intensive purposes reckless disregard is assumed in Australian defamation law. Likewise, as I've said previously, stern belief and ignorance, does not equal fact, and therefore does not give you clemency under Australian law. You're still free to say whatever you want, about whoever you want, but if that person calls you on it, you'd better have the fucking evidence to back it up your claim. If you can't back it up as true, then you're liable.For example, if you were to launch a public smear campaign that a certain person is the devil, it doesn't matter how strongly you believe that accusation. What matters is whether you can back the accusation up with evidence. If not then you're liable for damages. Its not the victims responsibility to prove they aren't really the devil (or that a gay hating god doesn't really exist, assuming that its even relevant to the charge which in this case I don't think it is). The burden of proof is on the person making the allegations, not the victim of those allegations.One of the mains points of the atheist/skeptic movement (and this Texan talk back show in particular), is that the burden of proof is on the person who makes the claims. Its not our responsibility to disprove their god. This is a fairly fundamental premise of logic which we all seem to subscribe to here, on all matters other than this one, and I would have thought a fairly fundamental principle in the “innocent until proven guilty” judicial system as well. I just wonder why that burden of proof is magically flipped to the other side whenever the first amendment is invoked (especially when we both seem to be agreeing to some extent, that it's not really even relevant to the charge of harassment in the first place) and why you don't seem to see a problem with that?

  70. says

    In regards to your question on whether Westboro have 'legally' committed harassment, all I can do is refer back to my original response to you when you asked about legally recognised injury. No, the Forth Circuit Court of Appeals have said Westboro haven't legally committed harassment or defamation etc. That's just a fact. However my point has been that if its not legally recognised I think it should be. Maybe the Supreme Court will change this. Maybe not. I don't know. I disagree, with the Forth Circuit's ruling, but my disagreement doesn't change the legally recognised interpretation of the law as it currently stands.”They generally show up to places, stand around for a few hours, and then go somewhere else. If that's harassment, then all those anti-globalization protesters are guilty of harassment, all those tea-baggers are guilty of harassment, and so one. You would make the right of the people peaceably to assemble into harassment.[sic]Let's imagine that the Church showed up near some event you had arranged, [sic]”Anti-globalization protesters have a right to rally outside the G8 summit. They don't have the right to egg Richard Branson's house, prank call him at all hours of the night, shoot his dog with a BB gun and let down the tires on his car.Animal rights protesters have a right to boycott fur and leather clothing or hold general protesting. They don't have a right to vandalise department stores that sell those clothes, or break into and trash medical research facilities that do animal testing.The tea party has a right to rally in a public area and put forward their ideas on politics and society, as fascist and racist as those ideas may be. But when Glen Beck singles out a specifically named democratic politician who disagrees with his position, and starts hypothesising on live television, about what it would be like to break into their house at night and kill them in their sleep, that is not the same thing.Likewise, Westboro have the right to say what they want, in public areas if they wish. I don't believe they do (or should) have the right to try and crash a family funeral. As best as I can tell, your only arguments against this behaviour being grounds for legal recourse for the family (and feel free to add to this list if I have infact overlooked a major point of relevance you've put forward) is that 1) they are 'near' the funeral not 'at' the funeral, and 2) that they protest with the same message where ever they go, so there is no indication that anyone is actually being targeted.

  71. says

    First of all, as I briefly touched on this in previous posts, I think it is a huge mistake to use Snyder as the only example, and I have a problem with your objections' presupposition that we should ignore both Westboro's history and the correspondence that occurs outside the events of a specific protest, To say that they are 'near the funeral and not 'at' the funeral ignores that that is only by government mandate of a 300+ foot no protest zone. In the past where this rule wasn't enforced, they have been right there at the front steps and on the cemetery lawns heckling mourners. Which sort of segues into my second point.These aren't just regular random street corner protests. Can we be honest enough to admit that they don't just show up to some place, and there just happens to be a funeral there? Its not by random chance. They are there because the funeral is there, and they make a very public song and dance about this fact in the media. They are targeting the funeral and the family and explicitly say so, even if the message they actually present on the day, on location, is the same as other protests.And that brings up one of my biggest concerned that you're choosing to over look. The harassment campaign isn't just them turning up at the funeral, but includes the unwanted media shit-storm they intentionally use it to cause, and the things they publicly say about the targeted family both before and after the funeral. To re quote a snippet from wikipedia in my previous messages:"WBC posted an "epic" on its website which denounced Albert Snyder and his ex-wife for raising their son Catholic, stating they "taught Matthew to defy his creator", "raised him for the devil" and "taught him that God was a liar"This is not the same message as their usual protests. These are specific allegations levelled personally at Albert Snyder, his ex-wife, and his dead son. You cannot possibly argue this isn't targeted personal. As I've already mentioned, under Australian law, (and the laws of formal logic), the burden of proof would, and should, be Phelp's responsibility to back up his allegations with evidence. If he can't do that he should be liable for damages. Its not Albert Snyder's responsibility to prove that he isn't in fact working for the devil. Phelps would not get away with this kind of shit in Australia. If as you say, under American law and the first amendment, the burden of proof is legally shifted to the other party (essentially making it Snyders responsibility to disprove the existence of Phelps' god, lest he gets carte blanche), then all I can say, is that I'm sorry to hear that, and I hope as a result of your completed law degree you work hard in the field towards rectifying this hideous oversight.As you say, many of these things may be settled as matters of American law. Honestly, I am ignorant to the letter of American law, and I can't necessarily argue those facts if they are indeed facts (i'm fine with taking your word that they are). What I will say, is that if they are settled in law, then I think that law is clearly wrong and should be reviewed.

  72. says

    O Oh Spaghetti Oh… looks like the spam Engine has chewwed up my first post as well. I'd request you wait until Russell has retrieved it before replying Ironic that the spam filter would axe it for being a malicious evil spam troll message considering it starts of with an apology :P

  73. says

    Ok, so i've just been on the phone for about an hour with a friend that has a Masters Degree in ethics law, and I feel a couple of clarifications/concessions are in order as I don't want to spread incorrect information, even if it means I was wrong and look like an arse.Re: burden of proof under slander/defamation/libel in Australia.She said that apparently I didn't word things very well at all. Its not so much that an assumption of recklessness is made. Being a civil action, legally the plantif has still brought a positive case of grievance against the defendant. Truth is an absolute defence in this case, but it is the defendants responsibility to establish that truth.I kindof mucked up the wording, but what I said was essentially correct. For all intensive purposes in Australian libel/defamation/slander law, the burden of proof still rests on the person who made the original accusation(s).Re: Harassment in Australia.Without reading back over the gargantuan mess of pages that I've written, I don't know that I really made any factual statements about harassment law in Australia, so much as I simply stated that I thought Westboro's actions should be considered harassment. However I feel as though it might have been implied.Apparently my friend said that even under Australian law its not as easy a situation as I think. There is no blanket legal definition of Harassment in Australia. Apparently it is actually quite a hard thing to establish here too. A neighbour who's harassing you and your family just because he's an arsehole is apparently almost impossible to deal with legally. However she did say that we do have a bunch of laws about harassment on grounds of sexuality, race, and religions, and that possibly the last one would cover the actions of the Phelps mob.Also that there are laws in Australia such as incitement of hate/violence, which for all intensive purposes are harassment laws (though under a different name) which may cover the actions of the Westboro church.In a nutshell, blanket harassment: probably not. Some other brand of harassment or incitement of hate on religious grounds: maybe. Slander and defamation: probably, though on that charge alone once fault has been established, there probably isn't a huge amount of punitive damages in the name calling the westboro have thrown at the Snyders.I still think Westboro are in the wrong, and I'm still not thrilled at all, about the apparent reach and burden of proof switcheroo of first amendment Free Speech laws. But I felt I had to make this post in the name of honest argument.

  74. says

    The most striking this about all of this is that I am becoming deeply deeply concerned that an atheist (and i'm making a fairly bold assumption that you also align with the skeptic movement) would think this situation is a good thing. I do like to think of myself as an atheist and a skeptic. I'm not sure what situation you imply that I think is a good thing. I'm not thrilled that there are people picketing at funerals to denounce the decedent to hellfire. I just think the proper response is more speech, not legal action (as long as no other laws are violated, including civil harassment, of course.)This idea that Phelps and his band of wingnuts can do what ever they want including harass people, and its all protected by the first amendment right to free speech, unless you can legally prove his god doesn't exist, sounds (to an admitted layman in a country on the other side of the world) remarkably like a legal version of Carl Sagans invisible garage dragon!You retreated somewhat in your last post, so if this sentence doesn't represent your position anymore, I apologize. I wanted to clear something up and correct something I misstated above. Of course WBC doesn't have the right to do whatever it wants. Harassment is harassment. I said above that the First Amendment could be a defense against a harassment suit, but I actually don't know if that would work. My knowledge of First Amendment law is pretty narrow. I've just been studying the Snyder case for moot court.You mention below that truth is an absolute defense to defamation. This is true in the U.S. as well. Another such defense is that the speech cannot be proven true or false, which is why I made a big deal about WBC's speech being religious. You can't call God to the courtroom and ask him if he really does hate gay people. It also makes a difference whether the target of the speech is a public figure. WBC tried to argue just that in the Snyder case, but they lost on that point in both lower courts.Forth Circuit Court of Appeals have said Westboro haven't legally committed harassmentThe Fourth Circuit didn't actually say that, but only because Snyder didn't sue for harassment. I don't know whether anyone has ever brought a harassment suit against WBC.First of all, as I briefly touched on this in previous posts, I think it is a huge mistake to use Snyder as the only example, and I have a problem with your objections' presupposition that we should ignore both Westboro's history and the correspondence that occurs outside the events of a specific protest, To say that they are 'near the funeral and not 'at' the funeral ignores that that is only by government mandate of a 300+ foot no protest zone.If I implied that I think we should ignore what WBC has done in the past, I apologize. I don't think that. In fact, I think their past history demonstrates that whay they do comes from their sincere religious beliefs. Their compliance with local rules (many of which were enacted specifically with them in mind) helps support this, I think. In the past where this rule wasn't enforced, they have been right there at the front steps and on the cemetery lawns heckling mourners. Which sort of segues into my second point.These aren't just regular random street corner protests. Can we be honest enough to admit that they don't just show up to some place, and there just happens to be a funeral there? Its not by random chance. They are there because the funeral is there, and they make a very public song and dance about this fact in the media. They are targeting the funeral and the family and explicitly say so, even if the message they actually present on the day, on location, is the same as other protests.

  75. says

    That's true, of course they target individual funerals. I still think you're inflating their effectiveness somewhat, though. Even where there are no time, place, and manner restrictions, they're just a few people with signs and their own, unamplified voices. WBC usually (perhaps always, I don't know) gets permission to do their protests, or protests somewhere they know it will be allowed. Again, if you disallowed this, you'd have to disallow any other vocal protest."WBC posted an "epic" on its website which denounced Albert Snyder and his ex-wife for raising their son Catholic, stating they "taught Matthew to defy his creator", "raised him for the devil" and "taught him that God was a liar"The epic is a closer question, good on you for bringing it up. For a few years WBC wrote an epic after every protest. Curiously enough, the Snyder epic is no longer available on WBC's website, but most of the others are. You should check one out for yourself. Its 95% bible verses, 4% biblically based aspersions that the subject of the latest protest is "of the devil," and 1% publically available facts about that person. In the Snyder epic, WBC made much of the fact that Snyder was Catholic, that he was divorced, and that his son died in service. Everything else is biblical vitriol. You may find that enough to sustain a claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress (as the District of Maryland did), or not. I think it's a stretch. Calling me "the devil" neither wounds me nor picks my pocket.I don't know that I really made any factual statements about harassment law in Australia, so much as I simply stated that I thought Westboro's actions should be considered harassment.I think I understood that you weren't trying to slot their action into any preexisting legal pigeonhole. That's why I repeated the dictionary definition of harassment you supplied. Nothing in WBC's activity seems repeatedly directed at specific individuals.In a nutshell, blanket harassment: probably not. Some other brand of harassment or incitement of hate on religious grounds: maybe.I don't think there's any case for incitement. Incitement to what? As far as I know (and I can't invoke my limited legal background here, because I've never studied it) an incitement charge requires that the speaker specifically advocate violence. A hate speech charge my work in some countries, but not in the U.S. The First Amendment is a strong barrier in place of that. As for religiously motivated harassment, I still think you have the problem that WBC never hits the same target more than once.Slander and defamation: probably, though on that charge alone once fault has been established, there probably isn't a huge amount of punitive damages in the name calling the westboro have thrown at the Snyders.Defamation definitely not. First, what false statements have WBC made? That God kills soldiers? That God hates gay people? How would you prove these statements false? Second, defamation usually requires that the plaintiff actually suffer some damage to his reputation (unless damages are presumed, and I'm not sure how prevalent that is at the present.) For example, Snyder's defamation claim was dismissed because no reasonable person would think less of him because of WBC's protests.The language you point out in the epic is a closer question, of course. The district court found that saying Snyder raised his son "for the devil" was essentially slander, and the Fourth Circuit found that that language was just rhetorical hyperbole (don't snort too hard, there's a lot of Supreme Court case law protecting rhetorical hyperbole.) It wil be interesting to see what the Supreme Court says on the matter.

  76. says

    As for punitive damages, hoo boy. The jury in the Snyder case awarded $10.9 in damages against the church in total; I think $8 million was punitive. The judge cut the total down to $5 million. So punitive damages awards can be quite large, though that's unusual. (The large amount was probably motivated by the quite-understandable hatred most people have for the Phelps clan.)I still think Westboro are in the wrong, and I'm still not thrilled at all, about the apparent reach and burden of proof switcheroo of first amendment Free Speech laws.I think they're on the wrong side of reality, but not necessarily the law. What the Supreme Court says in the Snyder case will clear that up a lot. But I felt I had to make this post in the name of honest argument.I hope I'm arguing as honestly as you are.

  77. says

    Again, if you disallowed this, you'd have to disallow any other vocal protest.As I said, I don't know that i'd really want to disallow this in a government censorship capacity, so much as increase the individual family's right for reparations if harassment can be shown (understanding what I wrote about harassment in my last post of course. I'm just saying). Westboro would still have the right to say what they want, but there would be more (you may perhaps even say equal) consequences to what they say and their civil conduct in saying it, if they do target family funerals to their own divisive ends against the family's wishes and assuming they wanted to take it to court. However I try to look at it, I'm just still not down with crashing someone's funeral as being free speech. Whether this is actually legally possible based on what I've learnt is another question. Perhaps if this case had've been seriously fought earlier on (such as with the Matthew Shepard funeral before the no protest zones and the such like), the lines on what's ok and what's not would have been easier to define, but I guess we'll never know.I don't think there's any case for incitement. Incitement to what?I'm not sure. I really didn't press the issue with my friend as by that point it was 9pm and I still hadn't started cooking dinner yet :P on the one hand it sounded like hate crime legislation, on the other hand, the way she was wording it, it still sounded like a civil grievance between to parties. I got the impression it was allot like the “intentional infliction of emotional distress” you made mention of, though I could probably ask her more about it next time I speak with her.Defamation definitely not. First, what false statements have WBC made? That God kills soldiers? That God hates gay people? How would you prove these statements false? Second, defamation usually requires that the plaintiff actually suffer some damage to his reputationI meant this purely from the point of Australian law where we seem to have a different burden of proof in defamation. In that case, its not a mater of what statements Westboro have made that are able to be proven “false”, so much as how many of their statements they can actually back up with evidence as "true" which would equally be zero.Obviously the "god hates gays" and “thank god for dead soldiers” aren't really directed an anyone and probably wouldn't count in any kind of capacity for an individual's case, despite their lack of evidentiary support. Snyder raising his son for the devil, maybe, though I'd be surprised if any reasonable person thought that one statement equated to $5million if that was their only legal grounds for damages… well.. maybe if they had Denny Crane.I think I will have to concede this argument to you. I must say however this argument has left me a bit shaken on the constitutional right to free speech. One of the things I use to get into huge arguments with my mother about, was that the constitutional right to free speech was one of the things I thought you guys got right (I don't mean that half compliment as an offence to any American personally. I like your country, but there do appear to be some oversights, as i'm sure there are with my country also.) but now i'm not so sure. If some of what you say is true about the first amendment's reach, and its apparent switching of the burden of proof in defamation and slander cases, i'm wondering if a bit more flexibility afforded by an implied right to free speech might not actually be better? I may have to read up some more on this.

  78. says

    Either way WBC church is back on the agenda and people all over are talking about them. They are hateful people no matter how many people go to their church. These people would exist without a church at least this way you know where they are and how best to avoid them. I do not get why anonnews came out with a media release: We are AnonymousWe are LegionWe do not forgetWe do not forgiveExpect us.I see this around and go huh they say all people are anonymous so really means there is no group or focus it is just people who find each other and work together. This is not an organization at all. A group of people did not like the WBC and decided to DDNOS them and as a result used anonymous name well guess what anyone of us can be anonymous. This is on their website as well. This is our challenge:A peaceful revolution, a revolution of ideas, a revolution of creation. The twenty-first century enlightenment. A global movement to create a new age of tolerance and understanding, empathy and respect. An age of unfettered technological development. An age of sharing ideas and cooperation. An age of artistic and personal expression. We can choose to use new technology for radical positive change or let it be used against us. We can choose to keep the internet free, keep channels of communication open and dig new tunnels into those places where information is still guarded. Or we can let it all close in around us. As we move in to new digital worlds, we must acknowledge the need for honest information and free expression. We must fight to keep the Internet open as a marketplace of ideas where all are seated as equals. We must defend our freedoms from those who would seek to control us. We must fight for those who do not yet have a voice. Keep telling your story. All must be heard.Someone must have written this, anonymous is a oxymoron as it is anyone and everyone. You talk or discuss as if anonymous are a collective organization they are not they are not even they. The WBC are considered a hate church and a cult. They are known for doing anything to raise any sort of publicity. Who know maybe they did this or just by being hateful raise publicity in fact this blog is raising some sort of awareness with the WBC.

  79. says

    The decision has been made: SCOTUS upheld the WBC's right to free speech.The only dissenter was Alito; some of his arguments are given in the article. The bright side is, of course, that free speech is upheld, and so will perhaps continue to be for such unpopular groups as we atheists. But, I do so feel for the Snyder family.Humorous: a video of Shirley Phelps and Anonymous. Shirley insults Anonymous during her rant, and so he shuts down one of her web sites then and there! LOL.

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