The Phelps Family and the Supreme Court

The Supreme Court ruled today that vicious anti-gay rhetoric, deployed at unrelated events, was Constitutionally protected (8-1, Justice Alito dissenting).

The tiny Westboro church, comprised mostly of Pastor Fred Phelps and his family, pickets military funerals and other public occasions, trying to project their view of God’s judgments about homosexuality to anyone whose attention they can get.  They’ve been doing this for nearly a decade.  The Court, affirming the decision of an appellate court, set aside a jury verdict awarded to the father of a marine whose funeral was picketed–at a distance.

Through provocative language deployed in inappropriate settings, the Phelps family has been hugely successful in generating a great deal of attention for themselves and their beliefs.

Opponents of the Phelps family need to think about whether counterprotests or neglect represent the best strategy in response.  Ignoring them won’t make them go away, but attacking them projects the conflict–and the Phelps message–to a broader audience.

You can read a profile of Fred Phelps at the Southern Poverty Law Center’s site.

We’ve covered some of their events:

at Elizabeth Edwards’s funeral;

about the argument, made by Margie Phelps, Fred’s daughter, in the Supreme Court; and about the strategy in general.

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About David S. Meyer

Author and professor of Sociology and Political Science at the University of California, Irvine
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