Snyder v. Phelps

9

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

street, reflect the fact that the church finds much to condemn in modern society. Its speech is “fairly characterized as constituting speech on a matter of public concern,” Connick, 461 U. S., at 146, and the funeral setting does not alter that conclusion.

Snyder argues that the church members in fact mounted a personal attack on Snyder and his family, and then attempted to “immunize their conduct by claiming that they were actually protesting the United States’ tolerance of homosexuality or the supposed evils of the Catholic Church.” Reply Brief for Petitioner 10.  We are not concerned in this case that Westboro’s speech on public matters was in any way contrived to insulate speech on a private matter from liability. Westboro had been actively engaged in speaking on the subjects addressed in its picketing long before it became aware of Matthew Snyder, and there can be no serious claim that Westboro’s picketing did not represent its “honestly believed” views on public issues. Garrison, 379 U. S., at 73.  There was no preexisting relationship or conflict between Westboro and Snyder that might suggest Westboro’s speech on public matters was intended to mask an attack on Snyder over a private matter. Contrast Connick, supra, at 153 (finding public employee speech a matter of private concern when it was “no coincidence that [the speech] followed upon the heels of [a] transfer notice” affecting the employee).

Snyder goes on to argue that Westboro’s speech should be afforded less than full First Amendment protection “not only because of the words” but also because the church members exploited the funeral “as a platform to bring their message to a broader audience.”  Brief for Petitioner 44, 40. There is no doubt that Westboro chose to stage its picketing at the Naval Academy, the Maryland State House, and Matthew Snyder’s funeral to increase publicity for its views and because of the relation between those sites and its views—in the case of the military funeral,

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