WBC Protests Protected Under First Amendment, Supreme Court Rules

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court ruled 8 to 1 that protesting at funerals is protected under the First Amendment. The case made its way to the SC after Albert Snyder sued the Westboro Baptists Church (WBC) for defamation, invasion of privacy, and intentional infliction of emotional distress, as a result of their picketing at his son’s, Corporal Matthew Snyder, funeral in March 2006. The WBC is known to oppose Catholics, people who serve in the military, Americans in general and many more groups. A federal jury found the WBC liable for invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress, awarding Snyder’s family a total of $10,900,000 in 2007.

However, the WBC appealed the case to the Supreme Court and was granted cert. As Wikipedia reports,

“Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, joined by 42 other Senators, filed an amicus brief in support of Snyder with the Supreme Court, and shortly after Kansas Attorney General Stephen Six filed a separate brief supporting Snyder. This brief was joined by the Attorneys General of 47 other states and the District of Columbia, with Maine and Virginia being the two abstaining states.”

In an unpopular decision, the Supreme Court found in favor of the WBC, overturning the money awarded to them by the federal jury and protecting their right to protest at future funerals. As the New York Times reported,Chief Justice John G. Roberts wrote for the majority,

“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.” But under the First Amendment, he went on, “we cannot react to that pain by punishing the speaker.” Instead, the national commitment to free speech, he said, requires protection of “even hurtful speech on public issues to ensure that we do not stifle public debate.” […]All of that means, the chief justice wrote, that the protesters’ speech “cannot be restricted simply because it is upsetting or arouses contempt.”