The case, Snyder v. Phelps, initially saw plaintiff Albert Snyder win a legal victory against WBC to the tune of $11 million for emotional distress caused by WBC picketing his son’s funeral. The damages were later reduced to $5 million.
Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the majority opinion:
“The ‘content’ of Westboro’s signs plainly relates to public, rather than private, matters,” Roberts said. “The placards highlighted issues of public import—the political and moral conduct of the United States and its citizens, the fate of the Nation, homosexuality in the military, and scandals involving the Catholic clergy—and Westboro conveyed its views on those issues in a manner designed to reach as broad a public audience as possible. Even if a few of the signs were viewed as containing messages related to a particular individual, that would not change the fact that the dominant theme of Westboro’s demonstration spoke to broader public issues.”
“Because 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.”
Top photo: A Westboro Baptist Church protester overlooks a counter-protest organized by students of Grady High School in spring 2010. (file photo)