In an 8 to 1 decision, the United States Supreme Court ruled that protests at military funerals constitutes constitutionally protected free speech under the First Amendment. In this matter, the Westboro Baptist Church picketed the funeral of Matthew Snyder, a Marine killed in Iraq. During the protest members of the Westboro Baptist Church held signs such as “Thank God for Dead Soldiers,” “God Hates Fags,” and “You’re Going to Hell.” Matthew’s father filed suit against the church arising out of the protest and subsequent posts regarding Matthew on the church’s website. A jury awarded Snyder $11 million in damages for the intentional infliction of emotional distress and invasion of privacy. The award was reduced to $5 million by the trial court. The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals then threw out the verdict finding that the church’s speech was protected under the Constitution.
The United States Supreme Court upheld the Fourth Circuit’s decision. However, the Court’s decision was limited to the facts of the case and did not address whether Maryland’s law (passed after Matthew’s funeral), banning all funeral protests violates the First Amendment of the Constitution. The entire decision case be read here.
— Erik Anderson, Esq.
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