The First Amendment and the American Judiciary

The Bill of Rights are the sets of laws that all others are compared and argued against. They are the building blocks of American society and they remain the most debated laws today. The case of the Snyder Family and the members of the Westboro Baptist Church is no different. The case brought before the Supreme Court in October 2010 is rooted in the basic precepts of the First Amendment. The Supreme Court’s responsibility was to decide to what extent state tort law may impose liability for the case against the Westboro Baptist Church without infringing on the guarantees afforded to them by the First Amendment.
In March 2006, Matthew Snyder was killed in the line of duty in Iraq. His family planned for his funeral some days later. Upon learning of the funeral, members of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas flew to Massachusetts and protested the funeral carrying signs with statements such as “God hates the USA,” “God hates you,” “Fag troops,” and “Thank God for dead soldiers.” It is necessary to note that over the past 20 years Westboro, founded by Fred Phelps has picketed nearly 600 military funerals as to “communicate its belief that God hates the United States for its tolerance of homosexuality, particularly in America’s military.” Westboro’s picketing also condemns the Catholic Church and its clergy scandal. The protests often occur whether the soldier(s) were gay or not. In response to Westboro’s activities over the past 20 years, nearly forty states including the federal government have enacted legislation addressing protests and picketing at funerals. On the day of the funeral, Phelps and a handful of his parishioners picketed on public property approximately 1,000 feet away from the church, which was in accordance with local law enforcement directives.
In statements from Albert Snyder, Matthew’s father, he stated that he saw the protests but was unaware of the subject until watching the news that evening. In light of those events, Snyder...