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Supreme Court Issues Decision in Snyder v. Phelps Controversial Free Speech Case
Image for Supreme Court Issues Decision in Snyder v. Phelps Controversial Free Speech Case

2 March 2011 - Washington, DC

The Supreme Court of the United States on 2 March 2011 issued its ruling in Snyder v. Phelps. In an 8-1 opinion the Court held that the First Amendment protects fundamentalist church members who mount protests outside military funerals to call attention to their notion that military deaths are God's revenge for the country's tolerance of homosexuality. The defendants in the case were members of the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas, consisting primarily of the family of the church founder, Fred Phelps, whose attorney daughter, Margie Phelps, argued the case in court. The church had picketed the funeral of Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder, 20, who was killed in Iraq, and Matthew's father brought the suit in Baltimore, where the jury awarded him $10 million. The judge reduced the amount to $5 million, the decision was overturned by the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals.

In upholding the decision of the appeals court, Chief Justice Roberts in his majority opinion said that the picketing "is certainly hurtful and its contribution to public discourse may be negligible." However, the government "cannot react to that pain by punishing the speaker." Justice Samuel Alito was the only dissenter in the case.

Commentary:

31 March 2011.  Shocking Opinion Protects Shocking Speech. (Kevin Theriot, ADF Senior Litigation Counsel)

29 March 2011.  More evidence that Whelan is incorrect in claiming Alito did not employ an "empathy standard."  (Adam Shah, MediaMatters) 

17 March 2011.  Justice Alito's dissent in Snyder v. Phelps: Law, not empathy.  (Ed Whelan, National Review Online

15 March 2011.  Ruling in favor of Westboro Church lacks common sense, intelligence. (Richard Hermann, GateHouse News Service)

14 March 2011.  Basic rights collide in Westboro case.  (John Crisp, English Department Del Mar College)

10 March 2011.  Congratulating a villain.  (Nick Krob, The Northern Iowan)