Why aren't Westboro Church protests considered hate speech?

Today the Supreme Court will hear Snyder’s case against Westboro Church.

All the discussion I’ve heard around this has been about First Amendment rights vs. right to privacy. But why isn’t hate speech the argument against these protests? You know if somebody held up a picket sign that said, “God Hates Blacks” that it would be denounced as hate speech and therefore unprotected under 1A.

Hate speech isn’t protected by the First Amendment? That would surprise me.

Hate speech, in and of itself is not a crime, as long as it’s not concurrent with something that is a crime. In fact it’s just this kind of speech that is the reason for the First Amendment; it protects speech that most people would object to and want to stop. If everyone just spoke niceties to each other, and nobody every objected to it, there’d be no need for the First Amendment.

The right of free speech isn’t an absolute. The classic example is yelling fire in a crowded theatre. You have no right to do that, unless there is a fire :slight_smile:

You could say “God hates blacks” at one rally and it’d be protected by the First Amendment. But if you said this at a different rally, say one for black people, you may be inciting a riot. Thus the same words, in two different locations, one would be protected and one would not.

Hate speech is protected as long as it’s not an incitement to violence.

Incitement to violence is usually held to mean “incitement to immediate violence,” ie, provoking a riot; not as one might suppose, advocating violence in general.

"advocacy of the use of force or violence does not remove speech from the protection of the First Amendment.” NAACP v. Claiborne Hardware Co. (1982)

Interesting distinction.

Hate speech is protected by the First Amendment. Hate crimes are (possibly) not protected.

Where did you get the idea that hate speech wasn’t protected under the 1st Amendment? Hate speech is completely legal in the US and, in point of fact, racist rallies are commonplace.

This is possibly the source of my confusion. I guess hate speech per se does not deny anyone their civil rights.

The whole purpose of the First Amendment is to protect unpopular speech. Who would ever need to protect popular speech?

I remember some article mentioned that they were discussing if the “hate speech” was directed at Snyder or the genreal population. Is that somehow related to being allowed to slander a celebrity vs. slandering John Doe next door?

Libel. And the question is whether you “allowed” to libel a celebrity, but whether your statement can reasonably be considered libel in the first place.

These are different.

“Yelling ‘fire’ in a crowded theater” refers to provoking an involuntary panic reaction likely to cause injury or death. A violent response to racial insults is easy to understand, but can’t be classified as involuntary or a panic reaction.

If “You can’t yell fire in a crowded theater” is interpreted to mean “You can’t say something that might lead to violence”, some absurd results ensue. One example might be that cartoons depicting Buddha, Moses or Jesus are acceptable, but those depicting Muhammad are prohibited.

I’m sure the Westboro Baptist Church protests are considered hate speech in many jurisdictions where hate speech is a crime. IIRC WBC protestors have been denied entry to, or even permanently banned from, some countries because the authorities consider that their only purpose in entering would be to commit that crime. One such example is Shirley Phelps-Roper, who is currently banned from entering the UK for “fostering extremism or hatred”.

In Brandenberg v Ohio (1969) the Supreme Court held that remarks that were arguably even more vile than Phelps’ were protected unless there was a direct incitement to violence.

Nope. Think about it - if the judge found these a$$holes, and tomorrow were the Day of Rapture, and it turned out God really DOES hate, gays, blacks, [insert “hated group” here]… that judge would be guilty of improper jurisprudence. And the Day of Rapture is not the best day to piss God off.

As Shakespeare said, “nothing’s good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”
As the courts (should) say, “nothing’s true or false but evidence makes it so.” These pricks aren’t speaking with facts on their side, but they’re the defendants… you can’t convict without evidence.

I’ve been following this issue, but recently this came to mind: Assuming the funeral was being conducted on private property (and I’m pretty sure it was), why couldn’t the owner of said property order the protesters off for trespassing, and call the cops to enforce it if necessary? (Assuming that cemeteries established by federal or state governments are considered “public,” perhaps this wouldn’t apply to them.)
In the case of small cemeteries, the nut balls could still protest on the public walks and roads near the cemetery, but still not as intrusive. Just occurred to me: Aren’t there laws about obstructing traffic, disorderly conduct, etc. Seems to me there must be something on the books to stop these a–holes, if only temporarily.

Phelps is always on public land when he’s protesting. And he’s never really any kind of obstruction.

Either you believe in free speech or you don’t. If you do believe in free speech, you don’t grasp at straws to come up with any way to shut someone up based merely on the content of his message.

That’s complete bull. Most people have graduated opinions on everything. Black and white morality is the realm of fundamentalists, which are rightly chastised, and of children who just don’t know better.

If we went by your logic, then the above mentioned “Fire” in a crowded building would be perfectly fine, as would libel and slander, and anyone who said anything against those must “not believe in free speech.” That would thus include all the people in our country.

It is totally within anyone’s purview to decide how far freedom of speech goes. And, as pointed out, other countries have the same provisions, but have decided it doesn’t go anywhere near as far as we let it.

The point of freedom of speech was to keep people from being shutdown by the government for saying things that the government didn’t like. The idea that people should not be allowed to grossly offend was not forbidden until much later. Heck, obscenity laws still exist to this day.

My own opinion is that, while what you say can’t be forbidden, the state ought to be able to say who can and cannot use their land. And, really, what public land is there near a funeral that the state doesn’t forbid you from standing on? The road and the land and the few feet of land right beside it was all that was at the funeral that was around here. I could see a real argument that letting a large group use that space would likely impede traffic.

Finally, just the rumor of these people coming is enough to inspire a large group of vigilantes to be at the funeral, as I’ve seen first hand. An extra law had to be created to keep people from freaking out. That’s definitely inspiring violence. It may not be illegal, but it is immoral, and the purpose of the law is to legislate morality.