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Supreme Court Finds For Westboro


....in what has to be the epitome of First Amendment lawsuits:
The Supreme Court has ruled 8-1 that the First Amendment protects groups that organize anti-gay protests outside military funerals.

The Snyder v. Phelps case is a classic battle of First Amendment rights vs. individual privacy, sparked by an emotionally-charged protest by the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan., at the funeral of a U.S. Marine.

The decision upholds an appeals court ruling that threw out a $5 million judgment to the father of a Marine who sued church members after they picketed his son's funeral.

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the opinion for the court, with Justice Samuel Alito dissenting.

"What Westboro said, in the whole context of how and where it chose to say it, is entitled to 'special protection' under the First Amendment," Roberts wrote, "and that protection cannot be overcome by a jury finding that the picketing was outrageous."
You can read the entirety of the Courts' decision here.

I think the real headline here is that Justice Samuel Alito was the lone dissenter. In his dissenting opinion, he said:
Our profound national commitment to free and open debate is not a license for the vicious verbal assault that occurred in this case. Petitioner Albert Snyder is not a public figure. He is simply a parent whose son, Marine Lance Corporal Matthew Snyder, was killed in Iraq. Mr. Snyder wanted what is surely the right of any parent who experiences such an incalculable loss: to bury his son in peace. But respondents, members of the Westboro Baptist Church, deprived him of that elementary right. They first issued a press release and thus turned Matthew's funeral into a tumultuous media event. They then appeared at the church, approached as closely as they could without trespassing, and launched a malevolent verbal attack on Matthew and his family at a time of acute emotional vulnerability. As a result, Albert Snyder suffered severe and lasting emotional injury.1 The Court now holds that the First Amendment protected respondents' right to brutalize Mr. Snyder. I cannot agree.

Respondents and other members of their church have strong opinions on certain moral, religious, and political issues, and the First Amendment ensures that they have almost limitless opportunities to express their views. They may write and distribute books, articles, and other texts; they may create and disseminate video and audio recordings; they may circulate petitions; they may speak to individuals and groups in public forums and in any private venue that wishes to accommodate them; they may picket peacefully in countless locations; they may appear on television and speak on the radio; they may post messages on the Internet and send out e-mails. And they may express their views in terms that are "uninhibited," "vehement," and "caustic." New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, 376 U. S. 254, 270 (1964). It does not follow, however, that they may intentionally inflict severe emotional injury on private persons at a time of intense emotional sensitivity by launching vicious verbal attacks that make no contribution to public debate.

[snip]

Because I cannot agree either with the holding of this Court or the other grounds on which the Court of Appeals relied, I would reverse the decision below and remand for further proceedings.

Respondents' outrageous conduct caused petitioner great injury, and the Court now compounds that injury by depriving petitioner of a judgment that acknowledges the wrong he suffered. In order to have a society in which public issues can be openly and vigorously debated, it is not necessary to allow the brutalization of innocent victims like petitioner. I therefore respectfully dissent.
While I can sympathize with Justice Alito's opinion, I think that the Court made the correct decision here. Just because you don't agree with someone's speech/protest/statement, doesn't mean that they shouldn't be able to voice their opinion.

Make no mistake, I absolutely loathe the Westboro Baptist Church and everything for which they stand. However, because the First Amendment applies to all Americans, not just the sane, caring and compassionate ones (not to mention patriotic), the WBC is still free to distribute their hate-filled rhetoric.

If the Court had maintained that the Westboro folks had no right to voice their opinion in this manner, I fear that it might have opened up a Pandora's Box of censorship.