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March 3rd, 2011
08:37 AM ET

Supreme Court rules 8-1 in favor of Westboro Baptist Church

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 8-1 in favor of the Westboro Baptist Church Wednesday, in a free speech case that challenged the fundamentalist church's right to protest at military funerals.

The father of Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder, a 20 year-old killed in Iraq in 2006, filed a lawsuit against the Westboro Baptist Church after members picketed his son's funeral. Westboro Baptist Church members protested at the funeral, and have done so at many others, to share their belief that American deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan were God's punishment for America's tolerance of homosexuality and abortion. Albert Snyder said the protests at his son's funeral caused emotional distress.

CNN Legal Analyst Jeffrey Toobin talks about the ruling with Kiran Chetry and Ali Velshi.

Filed under: Law • U.S. • U.S. Troops • Veterans
soundoff (59 Responses)
  1. Angela-Washington

    I hope we all realize that while these protestors were being not only offensive but insensitive. YET! THEY WERE FOLLOWING ALL THE STATE LAWS WHEN THEY PROTESTED. We cannot get mad at the Supreme Court for being constitutional and not punishing these people for being "mean." Free speech is protected.
    Your feelings are not protected under the constituition.
    Don't get mad at the Supreme Court for following the law, the law is always legal not always moral.

    Get mad at this country for getting to such the brink of desperaty that we foster such selfish and insensitive people.

    Change the people, not the Supreme Court.

    March 7, 2011 at 9:24 pm |
  2. T.B

    I would like to apologize on behalf of all other Christians around the world. This is not the way to send the message of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ did not assault anyone, he was beaten, persecuted, and crucified. His message was about love, so we must be careful because the same way this Baptist Church is condemning, some of the comments I've read on here, so far have condemned the Baptist Church the same way. Please don't judge Christians or the "Church," everywhere for the careless acts of one group of believers. Don't be guilty of the very thing you say you are so vehemently against. There is a judgement of God, and every person will ultimately be accountable to Him for every word or deed.

    March 7, 2011 at 4:33 pm |
  3. Sudsy

    Supreme Court gave Chistianists exactly what they wanted: a forum.

    March 7, 2011 at 12:03 am |
  4. Amy Stafford

    I understand that our free speech laws protect the protesters at the young man's funeral however, the laws are meant to be "interrupted" and decisions made in our court rooms set the precedence for what we should expect in case law going forward. My first thought when I saw this story was that clearly – this must be a "hate crime". Free speech is a right but it also illegal to discriminate (in matters of employment law as an example) against protected classes. I don't know what state laws are in affect here but when one or a group of people deliberately attacks a person verbally, emotionally or physically based on gender, age, sex, religion, race or sexual preference – I would assume that would or should fall under our hate crime laws. The law must be broad enough to cover the same types of abuse and harassment in other cases. Thanks – great show!

    March 6, 2011 at 6:05 pm |
  5. Deborah Roberts

    The church should have been asked to relocate to a public venue such as the courthouse. The supreme court needs to respect these peoples rite to rest in peace, they have to pay a death tax to have that rite. God said, (JUDGE NOT LEST YE BE JUDGED). What are they teaching in there church? They need to clean up the skelitons in there closet. The Babtist church has always been known to be radicals. God is said to have loved all of his children. What happened to the seperation of church and state? This church is forcing their views upon the rite of the people to burry their dead. When they are judged they will have to answer for their transgression. God is a loving God, not a vengeful God. That is what is wrong with churches, they think that the way they think is the only way, that is why people are so disalutioned in the church, because the bible is clear to tru believers in the word of God. The Westburro Babtist churce is rude and disrepectful. How would they like people to protest they have no rite to gather to worship, or to honor their dead.

    March 6, 2011 at 5:54 pm |
  6. dean t. jackson

    granted the constitution protects free speech at the same time one should use discretion and tact
    its the moral comparison to yelling fire in a crowded theater
    the very people the are protesting and reviling are the very element dying and fighting to protect and promote the constitutional rights they are expressing and in manys opinion abusing

    March 6, 2011 at 5:31 pm |
  7. Lu Henderson

    If this church was a true Christian church they would know their Bible says, "JUDGE YE NOT" This is Hate Mongering by a group of Godless Degenerates...Followers of Satan in my book.
    This is not freedom of speach...If the supreme court thinks it is this amendment needs updated...

    March 6, 2011 at 5:25 pm |
  8. Lee

    God Hates the Westboro Church ...How do you like it, I have just as much right to make this determination as the so called Westboro Church does

    March 6, 2011 at 3:57 pm |
  9. Lee

    Free speech does not mean you can yell fire in a crowded movie theatre, the same should be for this EVIL church/people. GOD Hates them!!!

    March 6, 2011 at 3:53 pm |
  10. Alan

    Seems we have a double set of standards in America! Go in your airport even in the luggage claim and yell "Ala Is great"

    Or hold your thumb and index finger up like a gun and yell "I kill you"

    You will get a free body exray colinoscopy and maybe a free trip to jail.

    Its bad enough not to have free speech in our public schools to say GOD bless you if someone sneezes!

    We know right from wrong and those 8 in the supreme court needs a colonoscopy. Obviously there brains are plugged up.

    God bless our troops! God help the Nazi party The KKK and all those who wish to remove what we stand for.

    March 6, 2011 at 3:53 pm |
  11. Yvonne Kurz

    These protesters need to know, just because you have the right to do it....that does not make it right!!!

    March 6, 2011 at 3:53 pm |
  12. Teresa Martin

    A persons rights end, where my rights begin.

    March 6, 2011 at 3:52 pm |
  13. jeff

    Im not usually much of a revenge type person but start showing up at their grandparents funerals with some weird ass message about how god hates grandmas and see what kind of reaction you get!!!

    March 6, 2011 at 3:51 pm |
  14. tom M.

    The actions of the Westboro Baptist Church are very sad, but also very telling of the lead organizer in my opinion. When an individual is so provoked to speak out with such disdain against the military and it's soldiers because of it's tolarance or association with gays,it usually means he or she is trying to draw away attention of their own issue of homosexuality. I suspect the male organizer and instigator of this protest from the Westboro Church is indeed secretly gay, whether or not he has come to grips with this .
    He needs to look within to see where this hatred comes from, as it is consuming his life, and making other's lives miserable.

    March 6, 2011 at 3:45 pm |
  15. John J Surinach SFC ret.

    I believe that Veterans organizations and servicemen also have the 1st amendment right to speak out and protest. The rights to bury those who have made the ultimate sacrifice in the defense of freedom is not being defended.
    I wonder if the Westboro Baptist 'Church would appreciate protest at there place of worship during there service. Would this be a violation of the 1st amendment (Freedom of Religion)
    Heck lets just take Sunday off from Church and show up at weddings, funerals, Mosques and Rival churches to protest whatever our political agenda is and instead of enjoying the rights service members die to defend we will abuse them.

    March 6, 2011 at 3:32 pm |
  16. Frances

    Freedom of speech is one of the most precious liberties that we have in America, but harassing the family of a military person who has paid the ultimate price to keep that freedom that we all enjoy, including the people of Westboro Church, is adding insult to injury and is a blatant abuse of our freedom of speech.

    March 6, 2011 at 3:03 pm |
  17. Gary Minyard

    I don't think that our forefathers would ever had stood for this behavior. It's barbaric the way they treat our Hero's.

    March 6, 2011 at 2:59 pm |
  18. Brenda Anderson

    Shame on you Supreme Court!! These despicable protestors are nothing more than cowards controlled by Satan!! If it were not for our soldiers protecting our great country, these mercenaries of hate would never have this so called right! It is totally wrong and an insult to the United States of America.

    Warning to these evil protestors...Do NOT ever try this in the state of Montana. We do more than brand cattle out here.

    March 6, 2011 at 2:17 pm |
  19. Teresa

    The Supreme Court, by voting in favor, has only contributed to the "acceptance" of hate crimes! As far as I am concerned, it is a crime to cause extreme undue distress to families suffering from the loss of a loved one, regardless of the deceased's sexual orientation. Shame on you, Westboro Baptist Church, for issuing judgement on people in God's name!!!

    March 6, 2011 at 1:23 pm |
  20. Kat

    I come from a Baptist background and to have people out there call themselves a Baptist "church" is a disgrace to me and my church members! I honestly can not speak for those in my church but I know that something as horrible as this would be frowned upon! The American soldiers who fight for our rights and for us to have all the amendments and keep the war out of our country to save us all are 100% heroes! I have family members who have and are now fight for this country we live in and I can't imagine this happening to my family! My prayers and thoughts go out to all the families who have had scars put on their heart by these people!

    Each American that signs the contract to join the military gives up all rights! They sign that paper to save the ones that they love and to fight for the country they love! In signing that paper they have no clue as to where they will be sent or of war will break out with another country a week down the road! The reason they are over there is the choice of someone else, not of the poor soldiers who want to do what's right for their country! They do not have a say if they are to be sent somewhere unsafe,... Their lives are in the hands of our government and our government has lost their minds! To punish these lost lives and their families for something that was out of their control is beyond inhuman! God Bless America, the soldiers who are fighting for this country, and the lives who have been lost at battle!

    March 5, 2011 at 6:15 pm |
  21. mike sey

    While I agree with Mary abour common sense, respect and compassion, Its not clear to me what Jesus Christ would have done. He did, after all, assault the money changers and damage their property in the temple if the stories are to be believed.

    Maybe its wiser to just leave Christ and religion out of it. That goes for the Phelps' and the Supreme Court too.

    March 4, 2011 at 2:33 pm |
  22. Connor Kunz

    The government was not condoning the actions of the Westboro Baptist 'Church.' It merely defended their right to do that under the First Amendment. Yes, it was a horrible, rotten thing to do, but they were completely within their rights to do it. They protested peacefully (if hatefully) on public property outside of hearing or sight of the funeral itself. Call them hateful, but they still broke no law.

    March 3, 2011 at 9:37 pm |
  23. Jasmine

    I don't believe they have a right to thank God for our dead military men and woman. If it were their family they would see it differently. Also hatred of people is not taught in the bible only hatred of the sin. John 3:16 For God so LOVED the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. It also says to LOVE thine enemy. Matthew 5:43-44 Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.

    March 3, 2011 at 3:42 pm |
  24. Robert

    Is there a fund to help Mr. Snyder with his legal bills. If so, I want to contribute. While I'm a steadfast supporter of the first amendment, I can only hope that someone looses control of his/her car at the next protest.

    March 3, 2011 at 3:42 pm |
  25. Jennifer Morris

    I feel just terrible for the Snyder family and all the families who have lost loved ones in the line of duty. I just don't understand what has become of our Supreme Court in recent years. I pray for all of our military families on a regular basis. Ever since 2003 I make it my priority to pray for our military serving abroad. My heart goes out to the Snyder family and others who will now be experiencing similar pain. I don't know what else to say. I am very sorry for our Country. Jennifer

    March 3, 2011 at 3:39 pm |
  26. D

    The first comment here says it all.. They are a horrid hate group.with no "Christian" compassion for grieving family. They do a huge disservice to the image of Christianity with their scamming, antics and cruel behavior.

    March 3, 2011 at 2:14 pm |
  27. Ralph

    Careful what you say about these brainwashed cult goons. They are incapable of knowing the difference between right and wrong. You could end up on the wrong end of an assault weapon.

    March 3, 2011 at 12:57 pm |
  28. mintbunny

    Even though they have a right to free speak, I think it's so disrespectful for them to protest at a young man's funeral. The same young man who fought for that very right to speak freely. Instead of protesting at funerals, they should protest in a parking lot or a park. They have no right to protest these funerals. If God was "punishing us" for homosexuality and abortion, then he would have done so when the Gay Rights movement was in swing. They need to stop causing so much pain to a family who sacrificed their son to protect their rights.

    March 3, 2011 at 12:24 pm |
  29. Judy

    They do not only protest at funerals of our fallen soldiers, they also have protested at funerals of children who have passed. What did the children do to make them want to spew their hatred at their funeral? Of course they don't need a reason. They are out for the money & publicity. I agree, this is not the type of 1st Amendment rights that our forefathers spoke about. I'm very disappointed in this ruling. We are all human and deserve a funeral that is private and respectful. What would happen if one of their "church" members died? Would they stand outside and hold up their signs of hatred at one of their own? Would they act any different than when they protest at children's funerals? Have they been asked where they stand on that issue?

    March 3, 2011 at 11:58 am |
  30. Mary Crissman

    It would be great if people just used common sense, respect, compassion, and empathy. To me, "christianity" is all about the teachings of Jesus Christ. I don't think He would have advocated this behavior.

    March 3, 2011 at 11:43 am |
  31. Charles

    What the Supreme Court need to do is define the difference between a church and a family cult. Anyone can cal;l themselves a church but that don't make it so!

    March 3, 2011 at 11:20 am |
  32. WTF

    If the government will not tell these people to stop protesting funerals, the families are eventually going to start taking matters into their own hands....
    Do you want that, Westboro Baptist Church?

    March 3, 2011 at 10:29 am |
  33. rickcolo

    The Westboro Church members are radical religious morons. They are no different than the radical religious islamic morons who want to kill or harm Americans.

    The Supreme Court has ruled in error in the case of these radical religious Westboro bird-brains. Does the KKK or the Black Panther morons have the same rights to express their freedom of speech or agenda? Freedom of speech and religion does not give anyone the right to abuse and demean others.

    This is why there needs to be a change in how these so-called all knowing Judges are elected for life. They certainly are not God and should not be treated as such! Common sense needs to prevail!

    March 3, 2011 at 10:12 am |
  34. conserned

    It has nothing to do with political speech – this soldier is not a public person, so it was a pure "hate speech", and I believe everybody should be protected against it by law. Pogroms on the Jews started from the same kind of speeches and we know how it end up.....If America will tolerate this kind of behavior – watch out America!

    March 3, 2011 at 10:08 am |
  35. Ginny Forrest

    As a special education teacher for 38 years and spending most of those years dealing with hurtful words and bullying towards, I find it appalling that the Supreme Court now deems such behavior as lawful. How can you expect schools to teach individuals to respect others when our own courts teach to the contrary?

    March 3, 2011 at 10:05 am |
  36. Vanessa

    I am all about the freedom of speech but that isn't what this group (it is NOT a church) is about. This is a hate group and if it were a minority member that had been selected to be the target of their hate, our judicial system would have protected them against this horrible group. Since it was just a member of our military – a soldier who died making it possible for them to do this – our Justices felt it was their "duty" to protect these citizen's rights. I truly hope our high Court hasn't opened this matter up to a higher and more deadly violence. As ignorant as these people are, grieving families can only be expected to take so much. If a person can't be expected to have protection from the court system, where else can they turn? A retired ARMY wife

    March 3, 2011 at 10:05 am |
  37. Geo

    Respect and honor of our fallen soldiers who haved died for America on the battle fields is PARAMOUNT above all else. If these surpreme court justices cannot grasp this, then we need to replace them right now with justices who put the rights of the people first. It is not about FREEDOM OF SPEECH issues, that is just the vehicle they have chosen to use to hate gays and do it in a manner to dishonor our fallen soldiers. This liberalistic BS of putting ALL RIGHTS first without taking into consideration the obvious hurt it is doing to distressed families is uncaring and abusive. I cannot help but think a ruling could b e reached that prreserved the rights to free speech but yet at the same time put limits on how far you can take it, because they are they have passed these limits by the majority of Americans standards. I personally dont care about the righty or the left in this kind of siutations, keep politics out of it and PLEASE LET THE FAMILIES MOURN THEIR BELOVED SONS WHO HAVE DIED FOR US ALL with privacy and respect.

    March 3, 2011 at 9:59 am |
  38. Audit The Fed

    The moment they try this at a private funeral, I hope they are sent to prison. It may be better for the families to pay for the funeral themselves and lay their loved ones in a private plot.

    March 3, 2011 at 9:56 am |
  39. Justin

    The supreme court may have upheld the because they are responsible for protecting the constitution, but that doesn't mean that Americans have to. Westboro Baptist you are a bunch of dirt bags, that soldier died protecting your right to act like a bunch of disrespectful children. If this is the belief system you follow, I want no part of that! Good luck filling your congregation now!

    March 3, 2011 at 9:51 am |
  40. CvH

    I am so glad someone else realizes that this is just about money........I wish someone would do a news story about this! I would be interested to find out how much money they have gotten from all of their law suits!

    March 3, 2011 at 9:50 am |
  41. vl

    Supreme Court did what they had to do to protect all of our rights. However, In the court of public opinion and morality WB"C" (faux church) convicted itself and will pay their damages in the future. The mercy they have shown in this life will be the same mercy shown to them.

    March 3, 2011 at 9:49 am |
  42. American Christian

    There are many things that monet cannot buy.......Two of them are CLASS and COMMON SENSE. The leadership and members of Westboro Baptist Church lack both of these qualities. It is very sad and shameful that people who profess to be Christians behave in such a manner. No wonder why so many groups and other people of different faiths have trouble with tolerating others who believe differently than they do. As long as crazy people engage in these types of hateful protests then how can we expect people of other faiths to have tolerance for " AMERICAN CHRISRIANS"?

    March 3, 2011 at 9:46 am |
  43. JMJ in Texas

    The real UGLY, UN-AMERICAN speech comes from those who seek to silence Westboro Baptist Church. Yes, I'm not for picketing of dead soldiers funerals, but I'm also support any group who speaks the TRUTH about homosexuals, perverts and child molesters and who speaks the TRUTH about the LIES that got our soldiers sent to the battlefield. Get our troops out of Afghanistan and Iraq. There is NOTHING there that is worth one drop of American blood.

    March 3, 2011 at 9:46 am |
  44. Roy Varner

    This is a sick decision by our sick Supreme Court. I cannot imagine any constitutional or legal basis for this disrespect to a fallen hero. Where in the h__ is our sick society headed? I probably won't see a Libyian or Egypt style overthrow in my time, but I think my grandkids will. What a shame.

    March 3, 2011 at 9:45 am |
  45. Ann Huebner

    I support the Supreme Court's decision. However, I just gave $500 to GLAAD today in honor of Westboro Baptist Church. I left a phone message on their (GLAAD's) website suggesting they make it possible for people to specifically give for this reason–and that they find a way to make sure Westboro Baptist Church is thanked for inspiring this kind of giving.

    March 3, 2011 at 9:42 am |
  46. Bobyjo

    As a group, we Americans have apparently forgotten to instill in our children the meaning of the term "consequences". Parents from the "Old School" had the respect of their children because of the possibility of the whipping they might be subjected to if the crossed a certain line of behavior. That fear brought a certain degree of respect. Fear and respect go hand in hand until the realization of no consequences is discovered. Once we think there is no consequence for our action then all respect and fear is lost.

    What we have in Mr. Phelps and his cult at what is referred to as the Westboro Baptist Church is a group of people that do not understand the term consequences. They have lost all sense of common decency and respect because they have not suffered any consequences for their disrespect of their fellow human beings.

    Until they find they sometimes must suffer consequences for their disrespect they will continue to have no fear of what they expound.

    Now, let the courts debate and try and separate fear, respect and consequences.

    March 3, 2011 at 9:40 am |
  47. Rachel

    Jim Jones had a "church" too. Though it was Constitutional to uphold this, it's disgusting. Protests members of the westboro baptists. Protest at their funerals and protest their protesting. Show the world that they are a crazy minority. Show what America really stands for.

    March 3, 2011 at 9:34 am |
  48. flashy

    The problem here is private property. If the so-called church where the funeral were held was in a privately owned neighborhood, with privately owned streets all around, the nut-jobs from Westboro could rightfully be kept away; it is the primary role of the police to protect private property from harm, and private owners can exclude whomever they want... under trespass laws.

    Look, a "church" is simply a building where people go to worship the supernatural. It is no more of a scam for Westboro to raise money for a "church" than it is your local Catholic den of mysticism to do it. The degree of ones irrationality does not make it any less mystical.

    The clear answer is: more private property and fewer groups of people worshipping the supernatural,.

    March 3, 2011 at 9:28 am |
  49. phyllis

    These people have fallen into the enimies hands. These soldiers
    are fighting in other countries to keep the fighting out of our country If they don't like the way we run our country, let them leave. These
    people sound like traders and I think they should all be investigated for terroristic activity. I am a christian and am offended they consider
    themselves christians, they clearly are not. They are enimies of the U.S. and so they are an enemy of mine, I will do as the bible says and
    I will pray for them, the bible states if we pray for our enimies it is like heaping coals of fire on them. WATCHOUT demonistrators,your day
    is coming for this act of treason.

    March 3, 2011 at 9:28 am |
  50. Doc

    Freedom of Speech was never intended to allow persecution, hatred and disrespect of basic human rights provided by the Constitution to all Americans. Too many Americans misunderstand the word Freedom. While we enjoy more freedom than most forms of government offer, no one is free to do whatever they like, nor should they be.

    There should be an element of "common sense" that is applied to interpretations of our constitutional rights. Keep in mind that we are interpreting words that were written centuries ago. Our forefathers would never have imagined that "Freedom of Speech" would be applied to such heinous, disrespectful and hateful acts against heroic Americans who have sacrificed their lives in the name of defending these same freedoms. It is easy for most Americans to see that this decision is wrong. I can only hope that the laws being written to counter these unconscionable protests will be passed rapidly.

    March 3, 2011 at 9:26 am |

    If they protested at a gay soldier's funeral , it would be regarded as a hate crime . Why do we give special protection then to minority groups and then not extend the same dignities to our service personnel?

    March 3, 2011 at 9:23 am |
  52. ALP

    I am very outraged at the fact that the surpreme court ruled in favor of this "church" so to speak. My husband is a U.S Solider and He fights for this country in my eyes so that people can stay free and be what they want to be. The fact that these people are protesting at military funerals is horrible and it shows that they have no respect for our service men and women and their families. The westboro baptist church should be arrested and removed from any further funerals they show up at. my husband fights for these people and if they dont see and respect that then they are just as bad as the terrorist themselves.

    March 3, 2011 at 9:20 am |
  53. Ryan Basilio

    This is a horrible opinion though I agree with it. Political speech especially political hate speech is one that is protected. This goes with the nazi marches in the 70's. With all the good free speech that happens there is also the bad free speech and it is just as protected as Dr. Luther King. With all the good speech we have to protect the bad. This is the double edge that is free speech and this is why so few countries have free speech as we do. The other countries cannot tolerate the hate speech that is protected so much here.

    March 3, 2011 at 9:18 am |
  54. summer

    that is ia good move to sue them he did nothin to him!

    March 3, 2011 at 9:01 am |
  55. Dawn Lunn

    The supreme court got it wrong this time. This cult set out to hurt this family of a hero on purpose. This family should have recieved a giant cash settlement. Of course I believe US citizens are entitled to voice their opinions, but this was not the time or the place. What now, should all military families bury their dead in secret?

    March 3, 2011 at 9:01 am |
  56. summer

    they should of never did it!!! they had no right to! it was very rude!! pppl need to grow the flip up!!

    March 3, 2011 at 9:00 am |
  57. Kim Terry

    As a resident of Maryland, I remember all to well the pain that our citizens indured watching the antics of the Westboro Baptist 'Church, praise the death of a Maryland Soldier. I am appalled that our governement would condone this type of activity. I would pray that the members of the Supreme Court who ruled in favor of the Westboro Baptist church, don't lose a son or daughter to an untimely death. I wonder if they would welcome the protests at the funeral of their loved one? I am really disappointed by these judges. Did we really elect these people to the Supreme Court?

    Signed: Sad in Maryland

    March 3, 2011 at 8:59 am |
  58. summer

    i feel that it was a real ignorant move he was a falling solider for them they didnt even know him

    March 3, 2011 at 8:58 am |
  59. cb

    The westboro babtist is not a "church", it is a hate group. They are in it for the money and the press. Most of the members of this "church" are attorneys, so they get away with this. Any one can say they are a "church", that is not going to make you a Church! This is not about freedom, it is about being human. There hate is a way for them to make money, by bringing a Lawsuit against people THEY have provoked. They are running a “church” scam. But, add a bit of crazy on the side just for show.

    March 3, 2011 at 8:46 am |