Snyder v Phelps
I just thought I would throw this up here since we had a spirited debate about it a few months ago and it hasn't seem to have attracted much attention in the 24 hr news cycle. SCOTUS has ruled in favor of the Westboro church. For those not familiar with the case the question was whether or not the Snyder family could sue Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church for picketing the funeral of their son who died in war.
The majority opinion ran along the same lines as the lower court. They ruled that the protest was free speech, although Chief Justice Roberts did point out that the government could regulate the time and place but at the time of the protest the members of the protest were within compliance of the law.
Simply put, the church members had the right to be
where they were. Westboro alerted local authorities to its
funeral protest and fully complied with police guidance on
where the picketing could be staged. The picketing was
conducted under police supervision some 1,000 feet from
the church, out of the sight of those at the church. The
protest was not unruly; there was no shouting, profanity,
The record confirms that any distress occasioned by
Westboro’s picketing turned on the content and viewpoint
of the message conveyed, rather than any interference
with the funeral itself. A group of parishioners standing
at the very spot where Westboro stood, holding signs that
said “God Bless America” and “God Loves You,” would not
have been subjected to liability. It was what Westboro
said that exposed it to tort damages.
Given that Westboro’s speech was at a public place on a
matter of public concern, that speech is entitled to “special
protection” under the First Amendment. Such speech
cannot be restricted simply because it is upsetting or
The vote on the case was 8 to 1 with Justice Alito being the only dissenter. I have been extremely concerned with Justice Alito's judgement in free speech cases. This is not the first time he has been the sole dissenter in a free speech case with little to back up his decision other than the offence he personally takes to the speech in question.
It was morality that burned the books of the ancient sages, and morality that halted the free inquiry of the Golden Age and substituted for it the credulous imbecility of the Age of Faith. It was a fixed moral code and a fixed theology which robbed the human race of a thousand years by wasting them upon alchemy, heretic-burning, witchcraft and sacerdotalism.-H.L. Mencken