Supreme Court Rules 8-1 in Favor of Westboro Funeral Protesters

BY News Desk  March 2, 2011 at 10:37 AM EST

The Supreme Court has ruled 8-1 that the First Amendment protects groups that organize anti-gay protests outside military funerals.

The Snyder v. Phelps case is a classic battle of First Amendment rights vs. individual privacy, sparked by an emotionally-charged protest by the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan., at the funeral of a U.S. Marine.

The decision upholds an appeals court ruling that threw out a $5 million judgment to the father of a Marine who sued church members after they picketed his son’s funeral.

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the opinion for the court, with Justice Samuel Alito dissenting.

“What Westboro said, in the whole context of how and where it chose to say it, is entitled to ‘special protection’ under the First Amendment,” Roberts wrote, “and that protection cannot be overcome by a jury finding that the picketing was outrageous.”

Read the decision:

On the NewsHour last October, Marcia Coyle of the National Law Journal explained the arguments before court in the high-profile case:

Westboro Baptist is almost entirely made up of family members of its founder, Rev. Fred Phelps. In October, the NewsHour talked to two members of the Phelps family. His daughter, Margie Phelps, represented the church before the Supreme Court (all of Rev. Phelps’ 13 children went to law school). She argues that their actions, even if extreme, are protected under the First Amendment.

We also talked to Albert Snyder, who initially brought the case to civil court, and his lawyer, Sean Summers. Snyder’s son, Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder, was killed in 2006 while serving as a Marine in Iraq.

We’ll have more on the court’s decision on Wednesday’s NewsHour. Stay tuned.