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A victory for free speech? The Supreme Court decides Snyder v. Phelps




Members of the Westboro Baptist Church, a Kansas known for its vehement anti-gay positions and for protesting at US soldiers' funeral, stage a protest across the street from Northwestern High School in Hyattsville, Maryland, outside Washington, on March 1, 2011.
Members of the Westboro Baptist Church, a Kansas known for its vehement anti-gay positions and for protesting at US soldiers' funeral, stage a protest across the street from Northwestern High School in Hyattsville, Maryland, outside Washington, on March 1, 2011.
NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images

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All Albert Snyder wanted to do was bury his son, Lance Cpl. Matthew A. Snyder, who lost his life serving his country in Iraq. Members of the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas wanted to protest the military’s acceptance of homosexuals. The church members stood near the Snyder funeral with signs that read “America is Doomed” and “God Hates Fags”. Mr. Snyder sued claiming that the protest was an intentional infliction of emotional distress, but the Supreme Court saw it differently. They ruled in favor of the church. Chief Justice Roberts, who wrote for the majority, noted that the church members were expressing political speech and that the protestors were in compliance with the law. He went on to say that while speech is powerful and can inflict pain, “we cannot react to that pain by punishing the speaker”. He continued “debate on public issues should be robust, uninhibited and wide-open”. Should hate speech (“God Hates Fags”) be protected under the First Amendment? Should people attending funerals be shielded, or have some special protection, from this kind of speech or is the emotional turmoil they experience a price we have to pay for our right to speak?

Guest:

Erwin Chemerinsky, Founding Dean, UC Irvine School of Law