The Baltimore Sun

Westboro verdict is likely to stand

With due respect to the constitutional scholars quoted in "Reversal likely in protest verdict" (Nov. 2), I think the verdict in the Snyder family's suit against the Westboro Baptist Church is likely to withstand a First Amendment free speech challenge, although the $10.9 million damage award may be reduced.

Unlike many of the Supreme Court's free speech precedents, the Snyder case does not involve a public figure, a criminal prosecution or prior restraint on speech by the government.

And just as it does not protect falsely shouting "fire" in a crowded theater, the First Amendment should not protect the intentional infliction of emotional harm on private persons.

U.S. District Judge Richard D. Bennett would not have sent the issue to the jury unless there was a legal basis for monetary damages.

Fred W. Phelps Sr. and his church may be permanently saddled with a large judgment for compensatory damages - and that would seem fair to the vast majority of Americans.

Francis J. Gorman


The writer is an attorney and an adjunct professor at the University of Baltimore School of Law.

Hateful protests not welcome here

I was heartened to see that a group of rational citizens from my home state of Maryland saw fit to award damages to the family of the brave soldier whose funeral was disrupted by the hate-mongering members of the Westboro Baptist Church ("Reversal likely in protest verdict," Nov. 2).

To promote church founder Fred W. Phelps Sr.'s near-pathological hatred of gays, the members of the church have caused untold additional suffering and grief to many military families who are already in despair over the loss of a loved one.

This "church" (composed of a number of Mr. Phelps' relatives and a few hangers-on) exists for one purpose: to give voice to Mr. Phelps' rantings against gays.

May the jury's award serve notice to the Westboro clan that their hateful antics are not welcome in Maryland.

Walter Ford


Family's privacy is primary right

The religious beliefs of Fred W. Phelps Sr.'s so-called church were not on trial in Baltimore ("Reversal likely in protest verdict," Nov. 2).

What was on trial was the right to propagate personally held religious belief in ways that are extreme and outrageous, not merely rude or "reprehensible."

While there surely is a right to free speech, citizens also have the right not to be publicly emotionally battered at a time of private grief by individuals who lack any sense of the moral decency that forms the foundations of all authentic religion.

Not only were Matthew Snyder and his family victims of unconscionable behavior but so was every other family in the country that has lost a member of the military in war.

If some lawyers really believe, and the courts maintain, that signs saying "Thank God for IEDs" and "Thank God for dead soldiers" really do merit First Amendment free speech protection, perhaps the person who said "The law is an ass" is absolutely correct.

Robert Nugent

New Freedom, Pa.

Nuclear mistakes much more costly

I was disturbed to read the following comment in a recent article on relicensing the Calvert Cliffs nuclear reactor: "Maintaining a nuclear plant is like car care - at some point, it becomes cheaper to buy a new one rather than keep fixing the old model" ("Generating more power," Oct. 27).

Actually, maintaining a nuclear reactor is nothing like car care.

Mistakes at garages don't cost potentially thousands of lives and billions of dollars. And cars don't create high-level radioactive waste for which we have no safe storage place.

In fact, federal subsidies driven by high-powered lobbyists who push the costs of everything from accident insurance to design approval for nuclear plants onto taxpayers play a critical role in the economics of nuclear power.

The Sun does no one a favor by simplifying such a complex problem.

Michael Mariotte

Takoma Park

The writer is executive director of the Nuclear Information and Resource Service.

Show resolve in face of nuclear menace

The Sun's editorial "Why not $100 - or more?" (Oct. 31) argues that "as far as we can tell, no sensible American thinks that way." By "that way," The Sun means being willing to pay a very high price for oil as a consequence of preserving our freedom by going to war with Iran.

But rest assured that this American believes he is sensible, wants to preserve his freedom and does not feel that the cost of oil should keep us from preserving our freedom.

The fact is that Iran is developing a nuclear capability.

Iranian leaders tell us they hate infidels, and that infidels must die. We are the infidels.

Many people believe that once armed with a nuclear bomb, Iran's president and its theocratic rulers would supply the bomb to Hamas and Hezbollah.

And then what?

Forget missiles; we and our European friends would get bombs hand-delivered.

The question isn't, "Why not $100 - or more?"

It is how we can prevent the unacceptable reality of a nuclear-armed Iran.

I hope that Iran's leaders will not take The Sun's words about sensible Americans as truth and that they will realize that this is a life-or-death matter for us - that we will not back down, and they had better.

Jerome Glazer


Titling tax criticism purely self-serving

I find it disturbing that The Sun would allow space on its Opinion

Commentary page to be used by a trade association to blatantly promote its economic interest ("In raising Maryland's vehicle titling tax, take trade-ins into account," Opinion * Commentary, Oct. 31).

In particular, the proposal to tax only the difference between a new vehicle's price and the value of a used car trade-in provides a tax advantage to car dealers at the expense of consumers who might prefer to recoup the full value of their used car through a private sale, or to donate their used vehicle to a worthy charity.

So long as the vast majority of Marylanders continue to drive to work every day, it is not credible for car dealers to claim that they cannot make a profit in the free market.

Eric Grote


Offended by image of anorexia costume

I'm 30 years old, and eating disorders (both anorexia and bulimia) have been part of my life for more than 15 years.

I was very shocked to read about an online retailer making and selling an anorexia-themed Halloween costume, and peeved that The Sun decided to show a picture of it ("No disguising their anger," Oct. 31).

Eating disorders are very serious and deadly; getting treatment at the earliest signs of a problem is very important.

There is nothing funny about these disorders.

The Sun should apologize for publishing that picture.

Kate Glorioso


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