Ward Armstrong Blasts Cooch on Westboro Baptist “Church”


    Armstrong argues that interrupting a funeral of a U.S. Marine isn’t the kind of “speech” we should be allowing, and that Ken Cuccinelli should have joined the lawsuit in support of the Marine’s dad.  Armstrong also notes that Cooch didn’t hesitate to go after free speech on the UVA climate science issue, declaring, “I think the Attorney General picks and chooses his fights based on his own personal, political agenda.”  I couldn’t agree more.

    P.S. Check out Cooch’s Facebook page for some scathing comments from his (otherwise) supporters. Wow.

    UPDATE: Click here to read Bob McDonnell’s “profile in courage” on this issue. As Rosalind Helderman points out, McDonnell “disagrees with Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli’s decision not to file an amicus brief in a Supreme Court case…Or maybe he agrees.” Got that?

    • Elaine in Roanoke

      I applaud Ward Armstrong for his position, while pointing out that this is a no-brainer for someone who obviously has drunk deep, deep draughts of that “Richmond/James River Fever Elixer.”

    • libra

      lowkell’s advice and went to see the comments on Cuckoo’s Facebook page. Resisted the urge to register as a fan just so I could pile on some more, but noticed that his fan/friend number now stands at 4718, which is pretty close to saturation point. And then, what?


    • dgjudy

      Whether Cuccinelli’s own motives are appropriate is an entirely separate question from whether his actions (or here, the lack thereof) as an elected official representing the Commonwealth, are appropriate.

      It’s sort of important to be clear about what we’re discussing.  Cuccinelli has declined to argue on behalf of Virginia in the Supreme Court that these noxious protesters may be sued and found financially liable for their political and religious speech in a public place, on the basis that that speech invaded the privacy of the family burying the dead soldier, and intentionally emotionally harmed that family.

      Del. Armstrong repeatedly characterizes the speech at issue as “interrupting a funeral,” and compares it to shouting “fire” in a theater or interrupting a teacher in a classroom.

      Here, from the 4th Circuit opinion (PDF), is a succinct statement of the actual facts:

      Phelps testified that members of the Westboro Baptist Church learned of Lance Cpl. Snyder’s funeral and issued a news release on March 8, 2006, announcing that members of the Phelps family intended to come to Westminster, Maryland, and picket the funeral. On March 10, 2006, Phelps, his daughters Phelps-Roper and Phelps-Davis, and four of his grandchildren arrived in Westminster, Maryland, to picket Matthew Snyder’s funeral. None of the Defendants ever met any members of the Snyder family.

      Defendants’ rationale was quite simple. They traveled to Matthew Snyder’s funeral in order to publicize their message of God’s hatred of America for its tolerance of homosexuality. In Plaintiff’s eyes, Defendants turned the funeral for his son into a “media circus for their benefit.” By notifying police officials in advance, Defendants recognized that there would be a reaction in the community.

      They carried signs which expressed general messages such as “God Hates the USA,” “America is doomed,”

      “Pope in hell,” and “Fag troops.” The signs also carried more specific messages, to wit: “You’re going to hell,” “God hates you,” “Semper fi fags,” and “Thank God for dead soldiers.” Phelps testified that it was Defendants’ “duty” to deliver the message “whether they want to hear it or not.” Lance Cpl. Snyder’s funeral was thus utilized by Defendants as the vehicle for this message.

      It was undisputed at trial that Defendants complied with local ordinances and police directions with respect to being a certain distance from the church.  Furthermore, it was established at trial that Snyder did not actually see the signs until he saw a television program later that day with footage of the Phelps family at his son’s funeral.

      Cuccinelli’s concern (and the ACLU’s) is that allowing this type of speech to be punished in the courts will endanger other speakers, in other contexts, and erode the protections that the First Amendment provides.  I agree.

      That 48 (or is it now 49?) other states have leapt to associate themselves with a fallen soldier against these hateful bigots — and that Ward Armstrong hastened to Skype himself onto television to bemoan Cuccinelli’s inaction — is pretty clear indication that a vast political majority wants to vent rage and indignation here.  This is all very emotionally satisfying, but it is plainly very dangerous to civil liberties.  It’s disturbing that the Supreme Court has agreed to review this case, and I only hope they get it right.  One other thing the lower court said in ruling in favor of the Westboro assholes:

      [J]udges defending the Constitution must sometimes share their foxhole with scoundrels of every sort, but to abandon the post because of the poor company is to sell freedom cheaply. It is a fair summary of history to say that the safeguards of liberty have often been forged in controversies involving not very nice people.

      If you want to contribute money to the Snyders’ legal fees, fine (though their own site says their costs have already been covered completely by donations).  And by all means, Cuccinelli should be politically opposed, and criticized for an astonishing number of hackish, ideologically motivated misdeeds in office.  But this is not one of them, and staking out a cheap and inaccurate position like Del. Armstrong’s is shortsighted, perhaps even foolish.

      Cuccinelli is right in this case, and the herd of states acting as amici curiae for the Snyders are wrong.  And I applaud, at least at a moderate volume, his willingness to stand in this case on a correct principle in the face of loud and easy scorn.