Thursday, April 01, 2010

No foolin’

It may be April Fool’s day, but this is no joke: I’m about to praise Bill O’Reilly of Fox “news”.

In 2006, a father buried his son, a Lance Corporal in the US Marines, who was killed in a vehicle accident Al Anbar province in Iraq. Some 1500 people attended the funeral procession—including the whackjobs from Westboro “Baptist” “Church” who picketed the fallen soldier’s funeral, as they often did as part of their viciously anti-gay hate campaign. At these funerals, they railed that dead soldiers were “proof” of “god’s judgment” against the US for “tolerating” gay people. Like I said, they’re whackjobs.

The father sued Westboro and won. A federal jury in Baltimore awarded the father $11 million in damages in 2007, saying Westboro intentionally inflicted emotional distress on the family. The award was later reduced to $5 million, and later overturned on appeal.

Meanwhile, the US Supreme Court agreed to hear the case to determine whether the "church's" free speech rights trump the religious and privacy rights of the Marine’s family. But then the Court of Appeals ordered the Marine’s father to pay $16,510.80 to the "church" for costs related to their appeal, even though the Supreme Court will review the Court of Appeals' decision. The Marine’s father doesn’t have that sort of money.

This is where Bill O’Reilly came in. Calling the judgement “an outrage,” O’Reilly pledged to pay the father’s legal bill. “I will pay [his] obligation. I am not going to let this injustice stand." While I wouldn’t have put quite the same way O’Reilly did, he’s nevertheless correct in saying that "It's obvious they were disturbing the peace by disrupting the funeral. They should have been arrested, but our system is so screwed up… that loons are allowed to run wild. [The father] is fighting the good fight, and he is taking his case to the Supreme Court as he should. We are behind him 100 percent."

I don’t know that I’ll ever have a reason to praise Bill O’Reilly again, but when someone steps up and does the right thing, I think they should be praised for doing it, regardless of what they do or say the rest of the time. Bill’s doing the right thing.


Unknown said...

Hi there...I don't know how I came across your blog, but I'm an American expat living in Lyttelton, NZ. I moved here with my same-sex partner when G.W. was re-elected. The Westboro protesters are just vile, sick people. But, I have to say the implications of this ruling go far...Westboro folks were apparently over 100 feet from the funeral screaming out their sick taunts. If the ruling falls that this counts as an invasion of privacy rights that trump free speech, you can see the implications in all sorts of unforseen ways in terms of political protest. How far does one need to be away from an event so as not to breach their privacy rights? So far that no one notices the protest in the first place? Don't get me wrong, I wish a bus would roll over those Westboro idiots, but this ruling could have some far-reaching implications. A potential upswing would be that anti-abortion protests would likely be forced to move to a much wider distance away from clinics if this ruling was upheld. But, so would those picketing WTO conventions and government offices. Well, anyway, glad I came across your blog. Thanks for the post.

Arthur Schenck said...

Welcome to the blog! Feel free to comment as much or as little as you want.

I'm less worried about the potential impact of a Supreme Court ruling against Westboro than are a lot of my centre-left friends. They, like you, are worried that the precedent would allow the suppression of legitimate political protest and dissent.

You all may be right, but as I see it, free speech is already suppressed at will when it suits the relevant authorities. The best example is probably the 2008 Republican National Convention in which peaceful, non-violent—and in some cases, non-protesting—people were brutally rounded up by the police, treated very badly and ultimately released—after the convention was over.

Previous Courts have established that free speech is not absolute, that, for example, one can't shout "fire" in a crowded theatre. Also, precedent has established that someone who creates a public disturbance, especially by creating the likelihood of civil unrest, can be arrested.

So, no matter how the Court rules, legitimate protest and dissent is potentially at risk. I wouldn't be surprised if this Court doesn't get into whether Westboro's speech is protected, but instead focuses on the issue of ensuring public order.

Personally, I don't think Westboro (or anyone else) has the right to picket military funerals (maybe funerals of a serving elected official who's died in office, but I'm not even sure about that).

One thing's certain: This is a VERY big topic.

Thanks for saying hello!

Unknown said...

Good points there...thanks for prodding my thinking on this. It will definitely be interesting to see how this pans out. Thanks again and best of luck to you.