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Were it not for our insane bias in favor of religion in general, the entire Church hierarchy from the Pope on down would be the target of a RICO prosecution -- every bishop and cardinal in America would be under arrest, and every high church official not in America, including Ratzinger, would be liable to arrest the moment they set foot on our soil. That would surely be the case for any multinational corporation outside the religion business whose employees committed such vile crimes on such a massive scale, and whose management conspired to conceal and perpetuate those crimes, and it ought to be the case for the oldest, largest, and most corrupt corporation on Earth, but because it's engaged in that least productive of all industries, religion, it's untouchable.
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I agree with those who've said the issue here is harassment, which is one form of speech that is not and should not be protected by the First Amendment, but I also agree with Greta that, if in fact none of the funeral-goers were even aware of the protest while it was going on, then the protest did not meet any reasonable definition of harassment, and the case was wrongly decided. I very much hope that the decision will be reversed on appeal, as it does seem to create a precedent for excessively broad interpretation of the definition of harassment which could indeed have a chilling effect on protected speech. One other issue I haven't seen addressed much in the comments is my immediate reaction to this section of Greta's post: And the more I think about this case, the more I think it's bad strategically as well as ethically. And for much the same reason. I think this case can and will be used by the Right to argue that queers are demanding "special rights." "Sure, they want First Amendment protections for themselves," they'll say. "But they sure are quick to get off their First Amendment high horse when it's someone they don't like!" And they'll be right to do so. Actually, they'll be wrong -- not that that will stop them, because they're infinitely dishonest and hypocritical -- because this wasn't a victory for the queer rights movement at all. It wasn't the family of a queer person that won this judgement: it was the family of an American soldier killed in Iraq, and I'm very, very skeptical of the proposition that a queer person's family could have won such a judgement. I think Phelps was in no real legal danger as long as he was harassing the friends and families of victims of AIDS and homophobic murder; it's only now that he's attacking America as such, and picketing the funerals of soldiers, whom the Right regards as sacred martyrs, that he's having legal trouble. And of course, the Right is fully capable of providing financial support and pro bono legal advice to lawsuits against Phelps by soldiers' families (I don't know if that happened in this particular case, but I am certain such support and advice would have been forthcoming from right-wing organizations like the ACLJ had the plaintiffs sought it), while the right-wing media loudly blame the gay rights movement for suppressing his First Amendment rights when those lawsuits succeed on the other. Anon animal-rights activist: I am shocked that we are defending Phelps when so many people (including the SHAC7) have been wrongfully persecuted for exercising their 1st amendment rights. We are defending Phelps on behalf of all people who have been wrongfully persecuted for exercising their first amendment rights -- because they are the very last people who can afford to allow any erosion of those rights.
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