Monthly Archives: October 2010

Mr. Simpson, I Presume?


Back before it turned un-funny, there was an episode of The Simpsons called “King-Size Homer.” Rebelling against a new excercise program at the nuclear plant, Homer decides to gain 61 pounds so that he can claim obesity as a disability and work from home. Of course, hilarity then ensued, and at teh close of teh episode Homer saved the nuclear plant from a meltdown. As a reward, Mr. Burns promised to make him thin again, so when Homer refused to exercise, Mr. Burns paid for liposuction. Interestingly, the episode was written by a former lawyer, Dan Greaney.

Now, in real life, the EEOC has sued an employer for disability discrimination based on obesity (HT to Overlawyered). This is of the percieved disability variety, which means that the employee was fired on because her emplyer thought she was disabled from being too fat. Even though obesity is not a listed disability, the EEOC filed suit because the employer thought the woman was disabled and fired her because of it.

OK, I posted this so I could write about the Simpsons. But I am continually surprised by how blurred the line between satire and real life has become. Look at The Daily Show, The Onion, and The Colbert Report. We have Steven Colbert testifying before Congress on immigration reform, and both Colbert and Jon Stewart staging a faux-political rally Glenn Beck style. If you watched The Colbert Report and Glenn Beck’s show back to back, could you tell which one was intended as satire if you didn’t already know? Maybe, but the line is closer than ever before.

First Amendment Showdown Tomorrow in SCOTUS

The Supreme Court of the United States will hear oral argument tomorrow in Snyder v. Phelps. SCOTUSblog has a great summary of the factual background and legal issues here.

This is the case where the father of a Marine killed serving in Iraq sued the Westboro Baptist Church for picketing his son’s Maryland funeral. Picketing, as in standing 1000 feet away with signs such as “God Hates Fags.” Westboro Baptist believes that God is killing U.S. military personnel due to our society’s tolerance of homosexuality and abortion, among other crazy ideas.

Mr. Snyder sued in Maryland federal court for intentional infliction of emotional distress. And won big time, to the tune of $11 million. Not that he would ever see a nickel of it, since fringe fundamentalist churches are rarely sitting on a pile of filthy lucre. The very conservative U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit flipped the verdict on appeal on First Amendment grounds. Mr. Snyder and his lawyers petitioned for certiorari and the Supreme Court took the case.

I’m not sure how this will come out. I find abhorrent what these people did to Mr. Snyder. I also think that generally, the First Amendment protects our right to say whatever we want, no matter how offensive. I can’t wait to see how the Court resolves this, but I hope Mr. Snyder wins. The protesters right to swing their fist ends at his nose. After all, there are a lot of places around the world where what Westboro Baptist did gets the protesters lined up and shot, not sued. Mr. Snyder’s son died helping to turn Iraq from the former into the latter. Here, they can say whatever they want, but should be made to accept the consequences of doing so.