The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments October 6th in Snyder v. Phelps, a suit by Albert Snyder against the Westboro Baptist Church for protesting at his son’s military funeral. The case presents the important question of how much freedom relatively private individuals should have from offensive or hurtful speech. The case has garnered controversy since the church protested at the funeral of Lance Corporal Matthew Snyder, who died in Iraq, because it pits free speech rights of anti-gay protesters against grieving military families. The Westboro Baptist Church has protested at over 600 military funerals, viewing them as the ideal platform for their message that the government’s perceived pro-gay policies are leading to the deaths of soldiers. In federal court Snyder was initially awarded a $5 million judgment against the church but the 4th circuit reversed, finding that while the church’s message was “utterly distasteful” it was only a form of hyperbole. The case will present a variety of linked issues, including: to what extent the speech was directed at a specific individual; whether the audience was captive; the connection of the nature of the expression to the public forum; and a plethora of other First Amendment problems. Many politicians and veteran’s organizations support Snyder in his suit, while the church’s First Amendment claims are supported by various media organizations, legal scholars, and the ACLU.
An more in-depth look at this case can be found on SCOTUSblog