Snyder v. Phelps in plain English

March 3rd, 2011

I wrote this post for the Harlan Institute blog. Probably below the comprehension level of readers of this blog, but may be helpful for some.

Today the Supreme Court decided Snyder v. Phelps. Eight Members of the Supreme Court held that the First Amendment protects the right of protestors to display signs containing offensive messages about gay people near funerals of fallen military service members.

Chief Justice Roberts wrote the majority opinion. The signs discussed the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and our military, which are public, rather than private matters. When speech deals with a matter of public concern, it deserves stronger First Amendment protection. Additionally, the protestors stayed approximately 1,000 feet away from the funeral service, and Mr. Snyder, the father of the slain Marine, could only see the tops of the protestors’ signs. Therefore, the speech was protected by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.

Justice Alito disagreed with the Court, and wrote a dissenting opinion. Justice Alito wrote that the death of Matthew Snyder was not a public issue, but a private issue. The First Amendment does not protect such outrageous conduct dealing with private matters. The protests caused the Snyder family a lot of pain and suffering. Justice Alito would have permitted the Snyder family to sue the protestors.