Supreme Court hears Phelps case

Counterprotesters in Dallas earlier this year.

The Fred Phelps clan was at the Supreme Court on Wednesday in a case involving their alleged right to picket military funerals. A jury awarded the family of a fallen soldier $10 million, but that verdict was overturned by an appeals court.

During Wednesday’s one-hour hearing of oral arguments in the case, Phelps cult members stood outside the Supreme Court picketing with their “God hates …” signs.

The attorney for the family of the soldier argued that if context ever mattered in a free speech case, this was it, according to the Washington Post. Attorneys general from 48 states signed on to briefs supporting the family, and 40 senators have also sent their support.

Margie Phelps, one of Fred Phelps’ daughters, argued on behalf of the family. She said the protest was done with “great circumspection” and within boundaries of previous Supreme Court rulings.

Justice Samuel Alito seemed the most sympathetic to the soldier’s family, while Ruth Bader Ginsburg seemed to have the most trouble with limiting free speech. She suggested no Maryland law was broken and the family could have obtained an injunction.

The attorney for the soldier’s father said his depression from his son’s death and his diabetes were made worse by the protest. Phelps said that being a Catholic and divorced made him a prime target for punishment from God.

Signs also used in the Phelps family’s recent Dallas protests were displayed in court.

The Phelpses have targeted the LGBT community for years, and gays and lesbians don’t take them very seriously anymore. When they were in Dallas, the LGBT community turned it into an all-day party with counterprotests, stupid signs of their own and an opportunity to raise money.

But the Supreme Court case involves a funeral and a family’s grief. The court will need to decide if and when free speech rights end and when a person has a right to privacy. While the Dallas protests were just silly fun, the military funeral protests can be classified as bullying. The intent to hurt other people must be weighed along with the right to speak freely.

—  David Taffet

A day of tolerance begins at the Holocaust Museum and ends at the Resource Center

Fred Phelps

The Dallas Holocaust Museum has asked Dallas Holocaust survivors to stay home for the day on Friday, July 9. But the museum will open its doors free beginning at 1 p.m.

The Fred Phelps clan of Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan., is scheduled to picket the museum at 2:15 p.m. WBC’s picket schedule also includes a number of other stops around Dallas this weekend targeting the Jewish community.

Laura Martin, the Dallas Police Department’s liaison to the LGBT community, asked people not to engage the Phelps clan. They make their money suing anyone and everyone — including the police, she said.

Holocaust Museum President Alice Murray agreed.

“We do not want to legitimatize the hatred of a small number of people who comprise this group by inadvertently providing fodder for media coverage,” she said.

The museum will be open with docents promoting its mission of tolerance and be selling its “upstander” T-shirts.

Rafael McDonnell of Resource Center Dallas said donations have been pouring in for “Hell Freezes Over,” the counterprotest fundraiser to replace the Center’s ice maker. He expects the new Westboro Baptist Church Memorial Ice Maker to be fully funded by Friday evening.

The Phelps gang is expected to gather near the Center at 6:15 p.m. The parking lots will be blocked off so McDonnell recommends street parking.

McDonnell said someone will have a stop watch and a horn. After one minute, he said, the horn will blow and people will throw money into a Pride flag. Each minute Phelps protests, more money will be raised.

“Bring lots of singles,” he said.

Bottled water and Fig Newtons will be served. “Figs” refers to a biblical quote Phelps used to denounce Dallas’ Jewish community.

The target of the evening Phelps protest is Congregation Beth El Binah, a Reform synagogue that meets at the Resource Center. (Full disclosure: I am a member of Congregation Beth El Binah and received the original fax from the Phelps gang about their impending visit).

Beth El Binah’s services will be held on a normal schedule. Everyone is welcome. Rabbi Jeffrey Leynor conducts services that last about an hour beginning at 7:30 p.m.

—  David Taffet