Supreme Court: Westboro Protests Protected

Pickets might be 'outrageous,' but covered by 1st Amendment
By Polly Davis Doig,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 2, 2011 10:19 AM CST
Supreme Court: Westboro Protests Protected
In this Oct. 6, 2010 file photo, Margie Phelps, second right, a daughter of Fred Phelps, in front of the Supreme Court, which has ruled that the First Amendment protects the church's protests at military funerals.   (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)

(Newser) – John Roberts' Supreme Court ruled 8-1 today that the controversial Westboro Baptist Church pickets outside military funerals might be "outrageous," but they're also protected under the First Amendment. The ruling upholds a reversal of a lower court's $5 million award to a dead Marine's father, who sued Westboro members after they picketed his son's funeral. Samuel Alito was the lone dissenter, notes the AP.

"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 for the majority opinion, "and that protection cannot be overcome by a jury finding that the picketing was outrageous." Westboro opponents had urged that funerals be shielded from its "psychological terrorism," while media outlets, including the AP, voiced concern about free speech. (Read more Westboro Baptist Church stories.)

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