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Final Focus of Constitutional Law

February 3, 2022

By Thomas McCutcheon

Certain cases bring a legal topic into focus.  Snyder v. Phelps is one of those cases.

The body of the U.S. Constitution gives us a working form of government while the Bill of Rights preserves certain freedoms.  Those guarantees of freedom are really, if you think about it, for unpopular freedoms.  Freedom from search, freedom from the majority religion, freedom to voice unpopular ideas. 

The Westboro Church case – Snyder v. Phelps illustrates those rights in a fundamental way. 

There is no event in a family like a funeral.  We all respect those who are grieving.  We pull off the road when a funeral passes.    

But not the Westboro Church.  They picketed U.S. soldiers’ funerals, dragging flags on the ground and carrying with signs saying, “Thank God for Dead Soldiers,” “Thank God for 911” and other offensive signs stating that God kills soldiers because of homosexuality in the military.  The Westboro Church picketed the funeral of Lance Corporal Matthew Snyder who was killed in the line of duty in Iraq in 2006. 

His father was understandably upset and sued Phelps, one of the leaders of the protest, as well as the church.  A jury in Maryland agreed with Snyder and awarded him 10.9 million dollars. 

This verdict was reversed by the U.S. Supreme Court on the grounds that the First Amendment protected the speech of the Westboro Church. 

“Westboro may have chosen the picket location to increase publicity for its views, and its speech may have been particularly hurtful to Snyder.  That does not mean that its speech should be afforded less than the full First Amendment protection under the circumstances of this case.”

Buckle up, drive safely and as always, your referrals are appreciated!


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