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LSTD 510 American Public University System Snyder vs Phelps Case Discussion

LSTD 510 American Public University System Snyder vs Phelps Case Discussion

Question Description

250 word discussion response, 1 source.

On March 3, 2006 Lance Corporal Matthew A. Snyder was killed in action while serving in the United States Marine Corps and deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. His funeral was held in Westminster, Maryland where members of the extremist Westboro Baptist church travel from Kansas to protest the Marine’s Funeral. The church members carried signs that read “You’re going to hell,” “God hates you” and “Thank God for dead soldiers.” The Marine’s father, Albert Snyder, filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland against the Westboro Baptist Church and its pastor, Fred Phelps, alleging the protest was an invasion of privacy and an intentional infliction of emotional distress.1

The District Court ruled in favor of Snyder and awarded him $10.9 million in restitution (which was later lowered to $5 million). The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals overturn the District Court’s ruling, asserting Phelps’ speech was protected by the First Amendment.2 The US Supreme Court granted a writ of certiorari with the question: “Does the First Amendment protect protesters at a funeral from liability for intentionally inflicting emotional distress on the family of the deceased?”3

In an 8-1 ruling, the Supreme Court upheld the decision of the Circuit Court, stating the church was speaking on “matters of public concern” as opposed to “matters of purely private significance.” The court defined protected speech in this case as any subject involving political, social, or other concern to the community, as well as any speech that is of general interest and of value and concern to the public. Speech on public issues is entitled to protection under the First Amendment and the protest was considered a public issue. Justice Samuel Alito was the only dissenting justice, stating that free speech is “not a license for the vicious verbal assault that occurred in this case.”4

Despite the majority, I do not agree with this ruling at all. In some instances, not all, funerals have deep religious context. With my family, a pastor or priest leads the funeral. There are prayer cards for the deceased, passages read from the Bible, and we hold prayer for our lost loved one. Had I been in a similar situation, I wouldn’t consider their protest as an invasion of privacy or infliction of emotional distress, but rather an infringement of my own Constitutional Right to religious freedom. I may be a Christian like the patrons of Westboro claim to be, but I certainly do not share the same sentiments. Given the claims in the original lawsuit, I can understand the Supreme Court’s Ruling in this case. If Westboro were to protest a religious funeral, I would assume the Supreme Court would issue a different ruling given the infringement of another’s Constitutional rights.

1. Melody Simmons, Marine’s Father Sues Church for Cheering Son’s Death The New York Times (2007),

2. Facts and Case Summary – Snyder v. Phelps, United States Courts,

3. Snyder v. Phelps, Oyez,

4. Snyder v. Phelps, 562 U.S. 443 (2011)

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