Right To Free Speech Has Limits Sociology Essay Example
Right To Free Speech Has Limits Sociology Essay Example

Right To Free Speech Has Limits Sociology Essay Example

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  • Pages: 11 (2854 words)
  • Published: September 24, 2017
  • Type: Case Study
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Freedom of speech holds great importance in the United States and is seen as a crucial element of American democracy. It is considered a basic human right to be able to express oneself without any form of censorship or restrictions. At present, the Supreme Court is dealing with Snyder v., a controversial case that seeks to safeguard free speech privileges as outlined by the Constitution.

According to this research study, America recognizes that freedom of speech has its limits. The focus of the disagreement is Albert Snyder, a grieving father who lost his son Lance Corporal Matthew Snyder in Iraq in March. On the opposing side stands Fred Phelps, a fundamentalist minister and leader of the Westboro Baptist Church. This small religious group is notorious for protesting military funerals and expressing harsh opinions against homosexuality and America's acceptance of it. Following their publi


c announcement to protest at Snyder's funeral, Phelps and his followers protested against homosexuality near the funeral service. With Phelps being protected by law enforcement officers and his presence posing a threat of violence, the entire atmosphere at the religious services was changed.

Phelps had a significant impact on both the Snyder family and a nearby elementary school. The school went into lockdown, and teachers were told to close the blinds to shield students from offensive signs displayed by protesters. Snyder filed a lawsuit against Phelps, alleging invasion of privacy and emotional distress resulting from the disruption of the funeral services.

Initially, the jury ruled in favor of Snyder and awarded him $2.9 million in compensatory damages along with $8 million in punitive damages. However, this decision was overturned by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.


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Supreme Court is expected to resolve this case by summer 2011.

The purpose of this research is to analyze American perspectives on the free speech argument in Snyder v. Phelps and determine which side presents a stronger case. The study encompasses the group's assumptions, parameters for the case study, survey findings, and analysis.

Hypothesis - Snyder Has a Stronger Claim

Prior to presenting the study to participants, the group shared their individual viewpoints and made predictions about how Americans would perceive free speech and its importance in connection with Snyder v. Phelps.

Phelps. The group developed five hypotheses regarding freedom of speech, right to privacy, and the sanctity of funeral services. The first hypothesis posited that 70% of the survey responses would suggest that Phelps's primary objective was not to harm the Snyder family, but rather to gain media attention. We believed that Phelps's main motivation for protesting during the funeral service was not necessarily to distress the Snyder family, but rather to make a strong statement against homosexuality. We also arrived at this hypothesis because Phelps had previously issued a press release stating his intentions to picket at the funeral. Additionally, in a later interview, Phelps admitted that they chose military funerals as a more effective way of reaching more media outlets.

Our second assumption was that all the study respondents will agree that "targeted picketing" is unquestionably a form of torment. This assumption is based on the belief that most Americans still view funerals as private occasions requiring dignity and sanctity. Therefore, although Phelps may argue that their act of "picketing" aimed to influence the U.S. government, it directly affected the Snyder family. The group's third assumption was

that all study respondents will concur that individuals attending funeral services for their loved ones deserve protection from unwanted communication.

The team strongly believed that respondents would agree with the notion that funerals are private events meant for close family and friends who are already mourning the loss of a loved one. They regarded funerals as sacred occasions held with utmost respect, dignity, and reverence. Consequently, any disturbance or presence of uninvited individuals at the funeral was deemed unjustifiable communication. The team also had confidence that nearly 100% of survey respondents agreed Phelps was aware of the pain and harm his actions and plans would inflict on the Snyder family. This belief stemmed from the understanding that anyone with a rational mind would grasp the disruptive nature of funeral services and its distressing impact on a grieving family. Despite publicly notifying the Snyder family about his intentions to protest at the funeral, Phelps still had no right to appear uninvited and make slanderous remarks near the funeral location. The team firmly believed that anyone could have foreseen negative consequences arising from Phelps' intentions and actions.

The group's main premise was to divide the respondent pool based on their opinions about whether Snyder or Phelps has a stronger claim. We predicted that 80 percent of participants would support Snyder and 20 percent would support Phelps. This prediction was made because it is believed that most people consider funerals as sacred and private occasions, which should not be exploited for personal or political reasons. We also hypothesized that survey respondents would agree with the idea that individuals have the right to grieve without being harassed. Additionally, the group expected

that survey takers would side with Snyder due to Phelps' public targeting and defamation of Snyder's son, as well as false accusations made against a private individual.

Research Parameters - Foundations for a Successful Undertaking

An online service called SurveyMonkey.com was used to create a study consisting of 15 inquiries. The study included three demographic inquiries, seven psychographic inquiries, and five instance-related inquiries. To obtain a large number of participants, the group shared the study on social networking sites Facebook and Linkedin. They also sent the study's link to family members and friends. The goal was for respondents to complete the study in only ten to fifteen minutes. In total, 102 completed studies were collected.

The Research Results - Participants Support Snyder

After analyzing the research parameters, the group presents demographic and psychographic findings from online surveys, along with an analysis of these findings in relation to the five hypotheses previously presented.

Figure One

The demographics of our surveyed population are highlighted based on age groups. It is observed that 45% of participants fall between the ages of 15-25, approximately 28% are aged between 26-35, around 16% fall within the age range of 36-45, and 5% belong to the group aged between 45-60. Due to the predominance of young participants in Figure One, it can be inferred that they will likely have a more sympathetic view towards grieving families and a more accepting stance on gender. This suggests that this specific age group may favor the Snyder family. Considering that schools and media outlets in the United States emphasize tolerance towards different sexual orientations, it is expected that

most young individuals will disagree with Phelps' fundamentalist viewpoint on homosexuality. Conversely, older generations in America tend to hold less tolerant views regarding homosexuality.

Figure Two

(Survey Respondents' Religion)

Besides demographics, psychographics also allow us to assess the religious and political inclinations of survey respondents. This survey recognizes religion as a significant factor. As depicted in Figure 2, approximately 50% of the survey participants belong to Christian or Catholic communities. Both Christianity and Catholicism hold negative views towards homosexuality. However, the present younger generation is not actively engaged in religious practices.

Given that the majority of the study participants are immature and come from conservative spiritual backgrounds, it can be assumed that if they are immature, they are most likely non-active Christians or Catholics and are more likely to support the Snyder household.

Figure Three

(Survey respondents' support for homosexual rights) Finally, as depicted in Figure 3, approximately 45% of the study participants expressed their support for homosexual rights. Based on this data, the group believes that these respondents are more inclined to side with Snyder in this matter and hold negative views towards Pastor Phelps' beliefs on homosexuality. Demographics and psychographics help us to meet and understand our respondents.

Understanding our respondents better allows us to draw more accurate conclusions. The initial part of the study allowed us to observe how participants may respond and feel about issues related to freedom of speech and privacy rights. However, the ongoing study will reveal exactly what respondents think about the specific case in question. The following are comparisons between the group's hypotheses and the actual results from the case-specific questions. Analyzing the five specific questions below uncovers the true opinions of the

study participants and the reasons behind their opinions.

Phelps' main goal was to gain media attention

How many of our survey participants would agree that Phelps intentionally wanted to harm the Snyder family? Previously, we hypothesized that 70 percent of the respondents would believe that Phelps' primary intention was to attract media attention during his protest. As depicted in Figure 4, the actual results showed that the majority of respondents believed Phelps' actions were mainly intended to make a political statement: 41 percent of respondents stated that Phelps' main goal was to harm the family, while 63 percent claimed it was for media attention.

Interestingly, we observed some indecision among some respondents. It appears that these respondents changed their minds at the last moment and answered differently. This may explain why the totals reached 104 percent instead of 100 percent.

Figure Four

(Phelps' goal was to hurt Snyder Family) We believe that some of the respondents strongly felt that Phelps only wanted to harm the family because for one, he specifically targeted the Snyder family, and secondly, it was the first funeral protested by Phelps and his group. The majority of respondents were in line with our hypothesis that Phelps' main objective was to gain media attention.

This could be because Phelps released a statement and flew to where the Snyder family was holding the funeral, in order to gain media attention for his political statement on homosexuality.

"Targeted Picketing" is a form of torment.

The group predicted that 100% of the respondents in the Snyder v. Phelps case would agree that "targeted picketing" constitutes torment. Figure 5 shows that the results of the study were slightly different - 94% agreed that "targeted

picketing" is a form of torment, while the remaining 6% believe it should not be considered torment.

Figure Five

(The question: Is targeted picketing a form of torment?) The results do not significantly differ from the group's hypothesis due to the way the "picketing" was conducted.

It may be difficult for some to not perceive Phelps and his supporters' actions as torment, especially since the presentation was directed specifically at the Snyder family. Harassment refers to any physical or verbal mistreatment towards an individual or group based on their race, religion, age, gender, disability or gender. Phelps clearly had strong objections to homosexuality, and he is entitled to hold those views. However, a funeral is not the most appropriate venue for another party to express their political beliefs while others are grieving.

Obviously, the majority of the study respondents agree on this. The group believes that the remaining 6 percent do not believe it is a form of torment because they are most likely staunch believers of freedom of speech with no restrictions. In the opinion of the 6 percent that selected "no" for this question, restricting a "lookout" from happening at a funeral may be considered a violation of our freedom of speech.

Person attending a funeral should be protected against unwanted communication

We wanted to know how many would agree to the requirement for those attending a funeral to have protection from unwanted communication.

The group expected all of the respondents to agree. As shown in Figure 6, 91% agreed that people attending funerals should have special protection against unwanted communication, while 9% believed there should be no special protection.

Figure Six

(Should people attending funerals have special protection?) Surprisingly,

approximately 10% of the survey respondents do not support any special treatment for mourners. The group had assumed that everyone would answer "yes" to special protection since most people empathize with those grieving the loss of a loved one.

Possibly the 9 percent that answered "no" have never felt this and therefore do not feel sympathetic towards someone attending a funeral or they may feel that grievers deserve respect, but special protection may be an excessive policy. The majority of the participants who agree with special protection for grievers may have strong feelings regarding the sanctity and privacy of funerals and are particularly empathic towards those in a state of mourning. After all, the last thing anyone wants during a funeral would be more reasons to be upset.

Phelps knew the hurt he would cause the Snyder family because of his actions

Another interesting issue in the case is whether or not Phelps had purposely hurt the Snyder family because he knew fully well that his actions would cause emotional harm to the family. We had assumed that all of the respondents would agree that Phelps knew and foresaw the consequences of his actions. As shown in Figure 7, 96% of the letter writers believed that Phelps knew what kind of emotional hurt he would cause to the Snyder family by flying across the country to protest with signs that said "Thank God for dead soldiers."

The Westboro Baptist Church wrote hurtful messages on their sign that were directed towards the Snyder family, such as "You're going to hell" and "God hates you."

Figure Seven

Did Phelps anticipate the kind of harm he was going to inflict on the Snyder's family?

The respondents' reports may indicate a belief that anyone who protests with such hurtful messages undoubtedly intends to cause harm to the targeted individual. The survey participants likely view these messages as evidence that not only did Phelps anticipate the harm, but he also intended it. Phelps was aware that his message was abusive and inflammatory, and he also knew the impact it would have on people, especially those who have lost a family member in the war. As a result of Phelps' actions, the Snyder family will not remember their son's funeral as a day of honor, but as a day of significant psychological pain.

Participants express sympathy towards Snyder

The group speculated that 80% of the participants would support Snyder, while only 20% would support Phelps. Our reasoning was that people consider funerals to be a sacred and private ceremony, and it should not be used as a platform for someone else to express their personal and political views.

Figure Eight

(Is Phelps correct or is Snyder correct?) As depicted in Figure 8, 92.7% of the respondents agreed that individuals should have the right to mourn the death of a loved one without being harassed. The respondents might have sided with Snyder because Phelps publicly targeted and defamed Snyder's son, making false allegations about a private individual. The respondents found Phelps' actions insensitive and wrong because he not only harassed Snyder but also posed a threat of violence. The results favored Snyder because the respondents believed that Phelps had malicious intentions as he clearly violated the criterion of malice.

If Phelps knew the potential harm he could cause

and still went ahead with his actions, he is in violation of this standard. Survey respondents believed that Phelps anticipated the emotional harm he could inflict on the Snyders but chose to protest at the funeral regardless. One significant reason for understanding Snyder's viewpoint may be attributed to the intolerant and offensive language used on posters, such as "Thank God for Dead Soldiers," "Fag military personnel," "God hates fairies," and "Semper Fi Fags."

Conclusion - America acknowledges limitations on freedom of speech.

The Snyder v. Phelps case has attracted national attention.

The central question is which constitutional right will prevail: the right to freedom of speech and expression, which will protect Phelps, or the right to peaceful assembly and mourning, which will advance Snyder's case. The sensitive nature of this case prompted the group to take interest and study it. Different opinions on the case have been reported depending on the participant's demographics, religious beliefs, and political tendencies. The group's assumptions and the perspectives of study participants were aligned with the belief that although freedom of speech is a valuable right, it also has its limitations. Free speech cannot be protected when it infringes on others' right to peacefully assemble, such as during mourning for the death of a loved one.

Disturbing funerals in the name of freedom of expression is malicious and intended to hurt others. There are appropriate places to express opinions on topics such as homosexuality, but funerals should be respected as private and sensitive events. While waiting for the Supreme Court's decision, the group believes that this research shows that Americans understand there are limits to free speech and will support the Snyder family. Only

time will tell how the Supreme Court will rule.

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