On This Date in Legal History

On March 2, 2011, the United States Supreme Court decided Snyder v. Phelps. Snyder, the father of a marine who died serving in Iraq, sued the Westboro Baptist Church (“Westboro”) and its founder, Fred Phelps, for picketing near his son’s funeral service. Westboro is known for picketing soldiers’ funerals to draw attention to their views. They speak out against gays in the military and scandals involving Catholic clergy. In the Snyder case, 30 minutes prior to the funeral, picketers held signs 1000 feet away on public land. Signs read—“America is Doomed,” “Fags Doom Nations,” “Thank God for Dead Soldiers,” “Priests Rape Boys,”and “You’re Going to Hell.” “The protest was not unruly; there was no shouting, profanity, or violence.” Snyder alleged several tortious claims against the picketers, but Westboro argued that their speech was protected under the First Amendment. A jury awarded Snyder several million dollars, however, a Court of Appeals reversed the verdict. The Supreme Court agreed to hear the case, and the Court affirmed the Appellate Court’s decision. Chief Justice John Roberts, who delivered the opinion of the Court, wrote—“Speech is powerful. It can stir people to action, move them to tears of both joy and sorrow, and—as it did here—inflict great pain. On the facts before us, we cannot react to that pain by punishing the speaker. As a Nation we have chosen a different course—to protect even hurtful speech on public issues to ensure that we do not stifle public debate. That choice requires that we shield Westboro from tort liability for its picketing in this case.”

About Tina Nelson
Tina Nelson

Tina Nelson is an attorney and mom. She created the LAWSUIT™ board game to teach her three children about the law. The game was an instant success. Copyrights and a patent were obtained, and Professional Games, Inc. was born. Professional Games, Inc. created this blog to educate and keep its friends and customers regularly updated about our American legal system.
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