The power of words

At a time in our history when rights and freedoms are getting renewed attention, the First Amendment still struggles for support, mostly because its power comes from the degree to which the government bestows it.

Today, the Supreme Court turned down an appeal from David Paul Hammer, an inmate on the federal government’s death row in Terre Haute, Ind, who wants to speak to reporters before he’s executed.

Why doesn’t the federal government allow death row inmates to speak to reporters? Because of this:

Twenty-three news organizations supported Mr. Hammer’s appeal, though it’s unlikely many of them are very interested in talking to him specifically.

While it rejected the claim by the inmate that he has a right to talk to reporters, the Supreme Court agreed to decide whether people can picket outside the funerals of soldiers, and shout some of the ugliest epithets you can imagine.

ScotusBlog reports on the case of orders against the Rev. Fred Phelps:

The Rev. Phelps’ church preaches a strongly anti-gay message, contending that God hates America because it tolerates homosexuality, particularly in the military services. The church also spreads its views through an online site, When the (Marine Lance Corporal Matthew A.) Snyder funeral occurred, the Rev. Phelps, two of his daughters and four grandchildren staged a protest nearby. They carried signs with such messages as “God Hates the USA,” “America is doomed,” “Matt in hell,” “Semper fi fags,” and “Thank God for dead soldiers.” The demonstration violate no local laws, and was kept at police orders a distance from the church. After the funeral, the Rev. Phelps continued his protest over the Snyder funeral on his church’s website, accusing the Snyder family of having taught their son irreligious beliefs.

  • Elizabeth T

    At what point do we point our finger at such hateful people, call them such, and then ignore them? It seems that they feed off the spotlight they crave and the misery they create by such ungodly behavior. No, don’t jump on me, I absolutely cannot imagine what LCpl Snyder’s family could have felt. I am pretty sure I would be enraged beyond belief if someone did this at my son’s funeral.

    Americans have been spewing hateful words for as long as we’ve been a country. Some of us will continue doing it for whatever sociopathic reasons they have. But I find it so annoying listening to people wring their hands and cry “oh what can we do, due to the 1st amendment?”

    If “ignore them and pray they’ll go away” isn’t feasible … what is? Sure, they have the right to say this – but I sincerely argue that they have any right to do so outside someone’s funeral. Ignore their right to say this (which they have) – focus on other rights.

    We have the right to assemble peacefully (also in Amendment #1) – people objecting to this behavior should not focus on free speech, but peaceful assembly. Because – in my opinion – this is NOT peaceful. Disrupting a funeral abrogates protection under this clause.

    This is on par with some anti-abortion group picketing my church in East Lansing with graphic photos of aborted fetuses because the governor was a member of the congregation. Sure, they have a right to air their grievances – but not where/when they were.

  • Heather

    I just hope that someone, somewhere, is cooking up something really really awesome for when the Phelps family loses a loved one. And by awesome, I mean something that will cut them to the quick.

  • Lee

    I guess I didn’t know that there was a law preventing interviews of death row inmates.

    Does that apply to only death row prisoners or all federal inmates?