Snyder v. Phelps

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Snyder v. Phelps (2011) is a First Amendment case supporting offensive speech.

The facts of Snyder v. Phelps are simple. Deceased Marine Matthew Snyder’s family filed a lawsuit against the Westboro Baptist Church who protested his funeral. Snyder’s family charged defamation, invasion of privacy, and the tort of intentional infliction of emotional distress, had be committed at the funeral. Initially, the family got a 5 million judgement, but the Appeals for the Fourth Circuit said the First Amendment was violated. The Fourth Circuit said the church member’ speech is protected even if “repugnant”.

The decison was 8 to 1. The majority included: John Roberts, Anthony Kennedy, Anthony Scalia, Clarence Thomas, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Steven Breyer, Sonia Sotomeyer, and Elena Kagan. The disent was Samuel Alito.

Snyder v. Phelps put the following question to the Supreme Court: Does the First Amendment protect protestors’ speech at a funeral for inflicting suffering on the family of the dead?

The holding of Snyder v. Phelps is easy to digest. The Supreme Court upheld that the First Amendment shields those who stage a protest at the funeral of a military service member from liability. Supreme Court upheld the First Amendment in Snyder v. Phelps.

The case made national news headlines. News casts showed the Westboro Church picketing with signs that read “Thank God for dead soldiers” and “Fag troops”. These demostrations made news across the United States.

Ironically, Fred Phelps’ daughter, Shirley Phelps argued the case. By all accounts of those at court, she was a terrible attorney who made horrible arguments. The Supreme Court ruled on their own.

In conclusion, Snyder v. Phelps tested the limits of free speech. The Supreme Court said offensive speech is protected speech under the First Amendment. Even if at a funeral, though terrible as that is, the court said offensive speech is constitutionally protected.


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