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An Introduction to Constitutional Law » Snyder v. Phelps

An introduction to Constitutional Law 100 Supreme Court cases everyone should know

Randy E. Barnett & Josh Blackman

The members of the Westboro Baptist Church believe that God hates and punishes the United States for, among other things, its tolerance of homosexuality, particularly in America’s military. The group, led by its minister Fred Phelps, protests at military funerals to communicate these views.

Matthew Snyder’s father, Albert, did not see the signs during the funeral. He only learned about their presence while watching the evening news. Albert Snyder sued Westboro for the intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED), a tort defined by state law. After the trial, a jury held Westboro liable for $7 million in compensatory and punitive damages.

On appeal, Westboro argued that the First Amendment fully protected its speech. The Court ruled for Westboro by an 8-1 vote. Chief Justice Roberts wrote the majority opinion. Only Justice Alito dissented.

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