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The Painful Side of the First Amendment

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To many Americans, it is unthinkable and dishonorable to protest the death of a soldier who died in the name of freedom.  But to Fred Phelps, the leader of the Westboro Baptist Church, funeral protests are a means of communicating God’s message.  Albert Snyder, the father of a soldier who died in Iraq and who had to tolerate Phelps’ protesters at his son’s funeral, disagreed with Phelps tactics and sued him, his daughters, and the church to stop protests at future funerals.  Specifically, Snyder filed a diversity action and also alleged state claims of intentional infliction of emotional distress, intrusion upon seclusion, and civil conspiracy.   A jury found Phelps, his daughters, and his church liable and awarded Snyder damages.  The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the verdict on First Amendment grounds.

Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court stunned many observers by ruling 8-1 in favor of Phelps in Snyder v. Phelps.  Justice Alito was the sole dissenter. The court held “[b]ecause this Nation has chosen to protect even hurtful speech on public issues to ensure that public debate is not stifled, Westboro must be shielded from tort liability for its picketing in this case.”


Written by Admin

March 9, 2011 at 6:51 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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