Snyder v. Phelps


Cite as: 562 U. S. ____ (2011)
Opinion of the Court

(Lexis Supp. 2010), as do 43 other States and the Federal Government. See Brief for American Legion as Amicus Curiae 18–19, n. 2 (listing statutes).  To the extent these laws are content neutral, they raise very different questions from the tort verdict at issue in this case.  Maryland’s law, however, was not in effect at the time of the events at issue here, so we have no occasion to consider how it might apply to facts such as those before us, or whether it or other similar regulations are constitutional.5

We have identified a few limited situations where the location of targeted picketing can be regulated under provisions that the Court has determined to be content neutral. In Frisby, for example, we upheld a ban on such picketing “before or about” a particular residence, 487 U. S., at 477.  In Madsen v. Women’s Health Center, Inc., we approved an injunction requiring a buffer zone between protesters and an abortion clinic entrance.  512 U. S. 753, 768 (1994). The facts here are obviously quite different, both with respect to the activity being regulated and the means of restricting those activities. 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, or violence.

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

5 The Maryland law prohibits picketing within 100 feet of a funeral service or funeral procession; Westboro’s picketing would have complied with that restriction.

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