High court rules Westboro protests are protected speech

By David Edwards
Wednesday, March 2, 2011 11:19 EDT
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The Supreme Court ruled Wednesday, in a 8-1 decision, that a church’s widely despised anti-gay protests were protected speech.

The First Amendment protects the Westboro Baptist Church’s right to picket military funerals, the court said.

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the majority opinion for the court.

“What Westboro said, in the whole context of how and where it chose to say it, is entitled to ‘special protection’ under the First Amendment, and that protection cannot be overcome by a jury finding that the picketing was outrageous.” he wrote.

Only Justice Samuel Alito dissented.

The ruling upheld an appeals court decision to throw out a $5 million judgement to the father of a dead Marine whose funeral was picketed.

The funeral of Lance Cpl. Matthew A. Snyder was picketed by Rev. Fred Phelps and other members of the church in 2006. Matthew’s father, Albert, took the church to court.

“I want them to stop doing this to our military men and women,” Albert Snyder told Fox News in October. “I want the judges to hear that this case is not about free speech, it’s about targeted harassment.”

Albert Snyder was awarded $11 million in the suit. It was later reduced to $5 million. A federal appeals court in Virginia threw out that ruling.

“While distancing themselves from the church’s message, media organizations, including The Associated Press, urged the court to side with the Phelps family because of concerns that a victory for Snyder could erode speech rights,” The Associated Press noted Wednesday.

Photo credit: Jeff Malet/maletphoto.com

David Edwards
David Edwards
David Edwards has served as an editor at Raw Story since 2006. His work can also be found at Crooks & Liars, and he's also been published at The BRAD BLOG. He came to Raw Story after working as a network manager for the state of North Carolina and as as engineer developing enterprise resource planning software. Follow him on Twitter at @DavidEdwards.
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