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Judge Napolitano sides with ACLU in Phelps case, much to O'Reilly's dismay

Reported by Chrish - July 25, 2006 -

Judge Andrew Napolitano was on The O'Reilly Factor tonight 7/24/06 discussing, among other things, the case brought by the ACLU on the behalf of the hate-filled Westboro Baptist Church based in Topeks, Kansas. Fred Phelps, the so-called "reverend" and founder of the so-called "church", is the leader of the gang that pickets events featuring gay performers and, more recently, the funerals of Americans killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. They disrupt these funerals to make their beliefs known, that their god hates America because we as a nation tolerate (and some of us embrace) our fellow Americans who are gay and lesbian.

I don't know of one single person, young or old, liberal or conservative, man or woman, who approves of or agrees with their hateful message. But most recognize that they have a Constitutionally protected right to say it on public property. It's a dilemma that several states are struggling with, and Missouri recently passed a law meant to keep these vile protesters away from grieving families. The Plelps' gang is challenging the law and the ACLU is representing them (probably holding their noses, but doing their jobs). From the Kansas City Star:

Missouri’s statute bans picketing and protests “in front of or about” any church, cemetery or funeral establishment from an hour before a funeral begins until an hour after it ends. Laws in several other states and a federal law, signed in May by President Bush, bar such protests within certain distances of cemeteries or funerals.


In the lawsuit, the ACLU claims that the wording of Missouri’s ban, which restricts protests “about” any funeral establishment, seeks to limit the group’s free speech based on the content of their message. The plaintiffs ask the court to declare the ban unconstitutional and issue an injunction halting its enforcement.

O'Reilly, ever indignant and outraged, wants to attack the ACLU for defending the outrageous behavior, but the Judge takes the wind out of his sails by saying that the First Amendment is intended to protect that type of speech which we find offensive. If the protests were occurring on private property, the owners could kick Phelps out, but on public property, i.e. Arlington and other cemeteries, they're within their rights to protest.

O'Reilly cites a case from 1988, Frisby v. Schultz, (487 US 474, 486) where the Supreme Court upheld a ban on picketing in front of a private residence, which sought not to disseminate a message but to intrude upon the targeted resident. O'Reilly insists that Phelps (the ACLU) is going to lose because of the 1988 ruling, but Napolitano holds that the government is going to lose, because pushing the picketers back 300 feet is too far.

Comment: O'Reilly's hatred of the ACLU blinds him to the work they do to protect us all, in principle. We'd all like to see the Phelps people put away or shut up somehow but you have to ask, who's next after them?