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Snyder vs. Phelps: Can a Single Event Cause Extreme Emotional Damage?

Posted Jun 16 2011 5:45pm

Someone politely (yet firmly) pointed out to me that although I can spend all day and night mentally masturbating to the fact my book has been published, I still have a website to maintain. So I wrote a piece on emotional abuse and how it could impact the legal system. Here is an excerpt, and hit the link at the end if you’d like to read the entire piece over at

If you are familiar with the case of Snyder v. Phelps, you know that picketers who held up signs such as “God hates fags” and “Thank God for dead soldiers” at a funeral for fallen soldiers were ultimately protected from punishment under the First Amendment. As a lawyer informed me, the details of the case are, from a legal standpoint, a bit dicey, given that the protesters were a certain distance away from the grieving families and that many of the soldiers’ family members didn’t even see the protesters’ signs until the evening news.

Given events such as these, an important question emerges: can a single event such as this cause severe emotional harm? If you’re a lawyer or law student, you are probably thinking of Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress (IIED).

The short and somewhat lame answer to this question is “yes, but only for some.” If you’ve ever dealt with a psychologist or psychiatrist in a legal setting, you know they give incredibly vague, hedged responses. It’s annoying, I know. But there is a reason for it. Quite simply, human thought and behavior is, bar none, the most difficult phenomena to measure with any real accuracy, and there are almost always exceptions.

Read the rest here .

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