Snyder v. Phelps

17 Oct

Commonly known as the Westboro Baptist Church free speech case, Snyder v. Phelps was heard by the Court on October 6, 2010 and decided on March 2, 2011. The Slip Opinion follows this introduction, and includes Justice Breyer’s concurring opinion. Justice Alito’s dissent is separately published.

This case examines first amendment rights. The First Amendment to the United States Constitution provides that, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances”.

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Cite as: 562 U. S. ____ (2011)
Opinion of the Court
NOTICE: This opinion is subject to formal revision before publication in the preliminary print of the United States Reports. Readers are requested to notify the Reporter of Decisions, Supreme Court of the United States, Washington, D. C. 20543, of any typographical or other formal errors, in order that corrections may be made before the preliminary print goes to press.

SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES

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No. 09–751
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ALBERT SNYDER, PETITIONER v. FRED W.  PHELPS, SR.,  ET AL.
ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE FOURTH CIRCUIT
[March 2, 2011]

CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS delivered the opinion of the Court.
A jury held members of the Westboro Baptist Church liable for millions of dollars in damages for picketing near a soldier’s funeral service.  The picket signs reflected the church’s view that the United States is overly tolerant of sin and that God kills American soldiers as punishment. The question presented is whether the First Amendment shields the church members from tort liability for their speech in this case.

I

A

Fred Phelps founded the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas, in 1955.  The church’s congregation believes that God hates and punishes the United States for its tolerance of homosexuality, particularly in America’s military. The church frequently communicates its views by picketing, often at military funerals.  In the more than 20 years that the members of Westboro Baptist have publicized their message, they have picketed nearly 600 funerals. Brief for Rutherford Institute as Amicus Curiae 7, n. 14.

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