Snyder v. Phelps (2011) Fred Phelps, the pastor at the Westboro Church, along with his followers believes that God punishes the US for allowing homosexuality freedoms, especially within the military. To express their feelings the Westboro Church and its people sometimes picket military funerals in hopes that their voices will be heard. In 2006 Albert Snyder’s son who was a Lance Corporal for the United States Marine Corps was killed in the line of the duty during his time in Iraq. Matthew Snyder was killed in Anbar,
Iraq when he was the gunner on a Humvee that ended up rolling after hitting something. The Westboro Church decided that they would picket Matthew Snyder’s funeral, notifying the sanction holding the funeral in advance what they planned on doing. When the Westboro Church and its followers arrived to picket this funeral they made sure to stage the picket on public land that was adjacent to a public street. Making sure that they didn’t violate any written laws they also made sure to abide by anything that was appointed to them by the police taking care of the funeral. The
Church members stood outside this church during the funeral reciting different hymns and verses from the Bible. Albert Snyder wasn’t aware of what the signs said until after the whole funeral took place, claiming that he could “really only see the tops and couldn’t make out what they actually said. ” Following the funeral, Snyder noticed on the news that the signs some gruesome stuff such as, “God Hates the USAI Thank God for 9/1 1,” “Thank God for Dead Soldiers,” and “Don’t Pray for the USA. ” Snyder decided that he would then sue Fred Phelps, claiming that the picketing aused him and his family severe emotional distress.
In his defense, Phelps argued that everything that took place that day was completely legal under the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution. The main issue that this case faced legally, was whether Westboro’s signs and comments while picketing Matthew Snyder’s funeral related to matters of “public concern” and in turn, decide whether there is too much protection under the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment. The Supreme Court made it clear that they were only going to determine this ruling ased on “matters of public concern” as opposed to “matters of purely private significance. The Supreme Court affirmed that the picketing amounted to speech on issues that are public; they felt as if one of the main things that the First Amendment covers is the right to picket based upon public issues. The Court felt as if although the signs that were used “may fall short of refined social or political commentary, the issues they highlight – the political and moral conduct of the United States and its citizens, the fate of our Nation, homosexuality in the military, and scandals involving he Catholic clergy – are all matters of public import. Albert Snyder realized all of the protection under the First Amendment but he claimed in rebuttal that that picketing was intended to shape an attack on Snyder over a rather private matter. Although the Supreme Court realized that Snyder had a strong claim at the time because of the circumstances that were evident, at the same time they must also hold to the law which noted that Maryland did not have a law imposing any types of restrictions on standpoint, the Supreme Court decided that Fred Phelps and his followers were in all f their legal rights to picket that funeral.
The Court expressed their acknowledgment of the picketing of a US Soldier’s funeral and the idea that many Americans would feel as if the Westboro Church was “morally defective”, but it rejected those factors as means for any type of lawsuit that could be tendered to the church. Though a Jury ended up awarding the family of Lance Corporal Matthew Snyder millions of dollars, the US Supreme Court upheld the circuit court’s dismissal of the verdict over unruly circumstances. Freedom of speech is something that is considered one of the reatest things available by both sides of the political lanes.
Both Conservatives and Liberals strongly believe in freedom of speech, but it is Liberals that are more likely to take the realm of expressing themselves publically. Liberals take pride in the idea of the “political left”, which basically outlines their devotion to America’s First Amendment the right to free speech. Although it is usually Liberals that we see voicing their opinion publically, the Westboro Church is overall a Conservative group because of what they stand for.
Most people including the media portray and roclaim that the Westboro Church is a Liberal party but when you dig deeper you start to notice that isn’t really the case. The Westboro Church has many things in common with those that claim to be Conservative; “both are against marriage equality, both are for the replacement of constitutional government with religious dogma of their particular form of Christianity, both are for the reduction of the rights of minorities and women, and both are for getting rid of reproductive rights and family planning. ” The case of Snyder v.
Phelps places before us a choice where we ust decide between the ethical values of basic respect versus the legal right of the First Amendment, freedom of speech. From an ethical perspective, it is easy to decide this case based upon the ideas that we adopted over time that all in all became a social norm. The ethical value of respect at a funeral will easily make someone choose the side of Snyder’s in this case Just because over time we have established that funerals are meant to mourn and to pay respect to not only the fallen but also the family of that person. Although it may be interpreted that the reason that the
Westboro Church chose to take action the way that they did was because it was necessary to get their point across, ethically it is frowned upon because of how we know funerals are supposed to take place. The Westboro Church had many options to establish the point that they were trying to get across such as the newspaper, TV, or the radio, but instead they chose to do it at a US Marine’s funeral which ended up working in their favor gaining them national recognition. Potter Stewart, a once US Justice wrote with regards to Ethics that, “Ethics is knowing the difference between hat you have a right to do and what is right to do. This quote explains the complete ethical aspect of this case because it describes how legally, the Westboro Church had every right to do what they did that day but ethically they were in the wrong intruding on the privacy of a grieving family at a funeral service less than 300 feet away. While the Justices made it clear that they understood where Albert Snyder and his family were coming from, they also stood firm with the idea that the Westboro Church was practicing the First Amendment which allows the freedom of speech to he public.
One of the Justices following the court case described the entire case as powerful. It can stir people to action, move them to tears of both Joy and sorrow, and as it did here inflict great pain. On the facts before us, we cannot react to that pain by punishing the speaker. As a nation we have chosen a different course to protect even hurtful speech on public issues to ensure that we do not stifle public debate. The problem that is now faced upon America after the ruling that the Westboro Church did nothing wrong is, how much is too much in regards to “a few” igns becoming too many? Would enough signs have changed the nature of the content of Westboro’s message towards the Snyder family? The effect of this case on the public is something that isn’t necessarily brought up but it is evident in many places because you have to realize that the public mainly sees this as a case of a family being stripped of what they believe should be a quiet and peaceful funeral.
With the ruling ending the way it does it has the public wondering how far the First Amendment freedom of speech can really get you and the fine print behind our US Constitution. Overall, the US Supreme Court case touches many aspects whether it is ethically, legally, politically, or socially. It is hard for most ethically driven people to accept the fact that the Westboro Church not only got no penalty for what they did at Matthew Snyder’s funeral, but they also received no further details about stopping the picketing of funerals.
In regards to legal aspects, this case set in stone that the First Amendment freedom of speech allows for not only speech that is accepted ethically but any type of speech that strays away from a personal attack. In most of he public’s opinion the Westboro Church was in the wrong that day for not allowing a grieving family time to privately mourn the loss of a family member but although what they did was frowned upon they stayed within their legal rights which forces the court to drop their case.
Although Albert Snyder lost this case his family was awarded millions of dollars and they also received support of the majority of the public against the Westboro Church and their actions not only that day, but in the future. Snyder left the courtroom after the ruling with not complete satisfaction but rust that his point was spread across America which was to notify them of what the Westboro Church does and what they caused not only himself, but his family.