Freedom of Speech Forum, law homework help


1. Snyder v. Phelps (attached), 09-751 (March 2, 2011) involved members of the Westboro Baptist Church picketing at the funeral of Marine Lance Corporal Matthew Snyder.  Please read the decision, give me a summary of the facts of the case and a discussion of the Court’s decision.2.  In oral argument, Justice Scalia questions the applicability of the “fighting words” doctrine enunciated in Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire , 315 U. S. 568 (1942).  Please watch the video. this discussion, the doctrine is dismissed in a footnote in the majority opinion and barely mentioned in the concurring opinion.  Please define and explain the doctrine.  Could/should it have been applied?Review the grading rubric for forums which can be found below. Your initial post must be a minimum of 500 words and must thoroughly answer the questions posed. All citations must be in Bluebook format examples are available in the attached document


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Forum Rubric (300-400 Level); 100 points total
(Possible 40
(Possible 30
25 points:
Presentation is
unclear; a basic
understanding of
the topic and
issues is not
explanation is
lacking; segments
of the required
answer are
lacking; sources
and supporting
facts are not
utilized; length
may not have
been met.
30 points:
Student’s initial
posting did not
meet the length
evidences some
topics under
analysis may be
lacking and/or
elements of the
question are not
support and
references may
be lacking.
Zero points:
Student filed
none of the
required replies.
15 points:
Student filed
only one of the
required replies
OR filed the
required replies
but failed to
meet length
35 points: Student
most aspects of the
posed in the Forum;
initial posting met
length requirement;
a basic
understanding of
concepts/theories is
relevant sources
were located;
minimal or no
facts/examples were
used in support of
40 points: Student
all aspects of the
posed in the Forum;
initial posting met
length requirement;
analysis of concepts
and theories clearly
superior knowledge
and a clear
understanding of
the topic; relevant
and scholarly
resources were
located and used
appropriately; facts
and examples are
used in support of
25 points: Student
30 points: Student
filed the minimum
filed all required
number of replies,
replies and they
meeting the length
met the length
requirements and
requirement; the
evidencing an
replies were
understanding of the substantive,
issues under
discussion and the
responses and
views of colleagues. contributed to the
Student failed to
discussion; student
respond to specific
exceeded minimum
queries posed to
requirements by
him by colleagues or answering all
by the Instructor.
queries posed to
Student did not take him by others and
initiative in
remained present
advancing the
and actively
engaged in the
throughout the
throughout the
week; student
reached out to draw
others into the
conversation and
drew connections
Forum Rubric (300-400 Level); 100 points total
(Possible 10
Writing (Possible
10 points)
(Possible 10
points; zero
points if
citations are
Zero points:
Student filed
more than two
postings in an
4 points: Writing
contains several
and/or spelling
errors. Language
lacks clarity or
includes some
use of jargon and
tone; sentence
structure is
2 points:
Student filed two
postings in an
7 points: Student
filed one required
posting in an
untimely manner.
between and among
relevant to the
10 points: Student
filed all required
postings in a timely
6 points:
consistent and
correct use of the
rules of grammar
punctuation and
spelling, with a
few errors; there
is room for
improvement in
writing style and
8 points: Student
consistent and
correct use of the
rules of grammar
usage, punctuation,
and spelling.
Language is clear
and precise
throughout all
Sentences display
consistently strong,
varied structure and
organization is
10 points: Student
demonstrates a
quality of writing
consistent with
scholarly works in
the relevant
discipline; student is
facile in the use of
vocabulary and
application of
concepts; writing is
pleasing to the
reader and
absolutely error
4 points:
Citations of
sources exist;
correspond to
the correct
source but do not
enable the
reader to locate
the source.
Bluebook format
not evident.
6 points:
Attempts to cite
sources are
made, but the
reader has
difficulty finding
the sources;
attempts to use
Bluebook format
are evident but
poorly executed
8 points: Reference
sources are cited as
necessary, but some
components of the
citations are missing
and/or Bluebook
format is faulty in
some respects.
10 points:
Reference sources
relied on by the
student are cited
appropriately and
accurately. No
writing of others is
left without
quotation and/or
attribution, as
Bluebook format is
used correctly and
(Slip Opinion)
NOTE: Where it is feasible, a syllabus (headnote) will be released, as is
being done in connection with this case, at the time the opinion is issued.
The syllabus constitutes no part of the opinion of the Court but has been
prepared by the Reporter of Decisions for the convenience of the reader.
See United States v. Detroit Timber & Lumber Co., 200 U. S. 321, 337.
No. 09–751.
Argued October 6, 2010—Decided March 2, 2011
For the past 20 years, the congregation of the Westboro Baptist Church
has picketed military funerals to communicate its belief that God
hates the United States for its tolerance of homosexuality, particu
larly in America’s military. The church’s picketing has also con
demned the Catholic Church for scandals involving its clergy. Fred
Phelps, who founded the church, and six Westboro Baptist parishion
ers (all relatives of Phelps) traveled to Maryland to picket the funeral
of Marine Lance Corporal Matthew Snyder, who was killed in Iraq in
the line of duty. The picketing took place on public land approxi
mately 1,000 feet from the church where the funeral was held, in ac
cordance with guidance from local law enforcement officers. The
picketers peacefully displayed their signs—stating, e.g., “Thank God
for Dead Soldiers,” “Fags Doom Nations,” “America is Doomed,”
“Priests Rape Boys,” and “You’re Going to Hell”—for about 30 min
utes before the funeral began. Matthew Snyder’s father (Snyder), pe
titioner here, saw the tops of the picketers’ signs when driving to the
funeral, but did not learn what was written on the signs until watch
ing a news broadcast later that night.
Snyder filed a diversity action against Phelps, his daughters—who
participated in the picketing—and the church (collectively Westboro)
alleging, as relevant here, state tort claims of intentional infliction of
emotional distress, intrusion upon seclusion, and civil conspiracy. A
jury held Westboro liable for millions of dollars in compensatory and
punitive damages. Westboro challenged the verdict as grossly exces
sive and sought judgment as a matter of law on the ground that the
First Amendment fully protected its speech. The District Court re
duced the punitive damages award, but left the verdict otherwise in
tact. The Fourth Circuit reversed, concluding that Westboro’s state
ments were entitled to First Amendment protection because those
statements were on matters of public concern, were not provably
false, and were expressed solely through hyperbolic rhetoric.
Held: The First Amendment shields Westboro from tort liability for its
picketing in this case. Pp. 5–15.
(a) The Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment can serve as a
defense in state tort suits, including suits for intentional infliction of
emotional distress. Hustler Magazine, Inc. v. Falwell, 485 U. S. 46,
50-51. Whether the First Amendment prohibits holding Westboro li
able for its speech in this case turns largely on whether that speech is
of public or private concern, as determined by all the circumstances
of the case. “[S]peech on public issues occupies the ‘ “highest rung of
the hierarchy of First Amendment values” ’ and is entitled to special
protection.” Connick v. Myers, 461 U. S. 138, 145. Although the
boundaries of what constitutes speech on matters of public concern
are not well defined, this Court has said that speech is of public con
cern when it can “be fairly considered as relating to any matter of po
litical, social, or other concern to the community,” id., at 146, or when
it “is a subject of general interest and of value and concern to the
public,” San Diego v. Roe, 543 U. S. 77, 83–84. A statement’s argua
bly “inappropriate or controversial character . . . is irrelevant to the
question whether it deals with a matter of public concern.” Rankin v.
McPherson, 483 U. S. 378, 387. Pp. 5–7.
To determine whether speech is of public or private concern, this
Court must independently examine the “ ‘content, form, and con
text,’ ” of the speech “ ‘as revealed by the whole record.’ ” Dun &
Bradstreet, Inc. v. Greenmoss Builders, Inc., 472 U. S. 749, 761. In
considering content, form, and context, no factor is dispositive, and it
is necessary to evaluate all aspects of the speech. Pp. 7–8.
The “content” of Westboro’s signs plainly relates to public, rather
than private, matters. The placards highlighted issues of public im
port—the political and moral conduct of the United States and its
citizens, the fate of the Nation, homosexuality in the military, and
scandals involving the Catholic clergy—and Westboro conveyed its
views on those issues in a manner designed to reach as broad a public
audience as possible. Even if a few of the signs were viewed as con
taining messages related to a particular individual, that would not
change the fact that the dominant theme of Westboro’s demonstra
tion spoke to broader public issues. P. 8.
The “context” of the speech—its connection with Matthew Snyder’s
funeral—cannot by itself transform the nature of Westboro’s speech.
The signs reflected Westboro’s condemnation of much in modern soci
ety, and it cannot be argued that Westboro’s use of speech on public
issues was in any way contrived to insulate a personal attack on
Cite as: 562 U. S. ____ (2011)
Snyder from liability. Westboro had been actively engaged in speak
ing on the subjects addressed in its picketing long before it became
aware of Matthew Snyder, and there can be no serious claim that the
picketing did not represent Westboro’s honestly held beliefs on public
issues. Westboro may have chosen the picket location to increase
publicity for its views, and its speech may have been particularly
hurtful to Snyder. That does not mean that its speech should be af
forded less than full First Amendment protection under the circum
stances of this case. Pp. 8–10.
That said, “ ‘[e]ven protected speech is not equally permissible in all
places and at all times.’ ” Frisby v. Schultz, 487 U. S. 474, 479.
Westboro’s choice of where and when to conduct its picketing is not
beyond the Government’s regulatory reach—it is “subject to reason
able time, place, or manner restrictions.” Clark v. Community for
Creative Non-Violence, 468 U. S. 288, 293. The facts here are quite
different, however, both with respect to the activity being regulated
and the means of restricting those activities, from the few limited
situations where the Court has concluded that the location of tar
geted picketing can be properly regulated under provisions deemed
content neutral. Frisby, supra, at 477; Madsen v. Women’s Health
Center, Inc., 512 U. S. 753, 768, distinguished. Maryland now has a
law restricting funeral picketing but that law was not in effect at the
time of these events, so this Court has no occasion to consider
whether that law is a “reasonable time, place, or manner restric
tio[n]” under the standards announced by this Court. Clark, supra,
at 293. Pp. 10–12.
The “special protection” afforded to what Westboro said, in the
whole context of how and where it chose to say it, cannot be overcome
by a jury finding that the picketing was “outrageous” for purposes of
applying the state law tort of intentional infliction of emotional dis
tress. That would pose too great a danger that the jury would punish
Westboro for its views on matters of public concern. For all these
reasons, the jury verdict imposing tort liability on Westboro for inten
tional infliction of emotional distress must be set aside. Pp. 12–13.
(b) Snyder also may not recover for the tort of intrusion upon seclu
sion. He argues that he was a member of a captive audience at his
son’s funeral, but the captive audience doctrine—which has been ap
plied sparingly, see Rowan v. Post Office Dept., 397 U. S. 728, 736–
738; Frisby, supra, at 484–485—should not be expanded to the cir
cumstances here. Westboro stayed well away from the memorial ser
vice, Snyder could see no more than the tops of the picketers’ signs,
and there is no indication that the picketing interfered with the fu
neral service itself. Pp. 13–14.
(c) Because the First Amendment bars Snyder from recovery for in
tentional infliction of emotional distress or intrusion upon seclu
sion—the allegedly unlawful activity Westboro conspired to accom
plish—Snyder also cannot recover for civil conspiracy based on those
torts. P. 14.
(d) Westboro addressed matters of public import on public prop
erty, in a peaceful manner, in full compliance with the guidance of lo
cal officials. It did not disrupt Mathew Snyder’s funeral, and its
choice to picket at that time and place did not alter the nature of its
speech. Because this Nation has chosen to protect even hurtful
speech on public issues to ensure that public debate is not stifled,
Westboro must be shielded from tort liability for its picketing in this
case. Pp. 14–15.
580 F. 3d 206, affirmed.
ROBERTS, C. J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which SCALIA,
joined. BREYER, J., filed a concurring opinion. ALITO, J., filed a dissent
ing opinion.
Cite as: 562 U. S. ____ (2011)
Opinion of the Court
NOTICE: This opinion is subject to formal revision before publication in the
preliminary print of the United States Reports. Readers are requested to
notify the Reporter of Decisions, Supreme Court of the United States, Wash
ington, D. C. 20543, of any typographical or other formal errors, in order
that corrections may be made before the preliminary print goes to press.
No. 09–751
[March 2, 2011]
CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS delivered the opinion of the
A jury held members of the Westboro Baptist Church
liable for millions of dollars in damages for picketing near
a soldier’s funeral service. The picket signs reflected the
church’s view that the United States is overly tolerant of
sin and that God kills American soldiers as punishment.
The question presented is whether the First Amendment
shields the church members from tort liability for their
speech in this case.
Fred Phelps founded the Westboro Baptist Church in
Topeka, Kansas, in 1955. The church’s congregation
believes that God hates and punishes the United States
for its tolerance of homosexuality, particularly in Amer
ica’s military. The church frequently communicates its
views by picketing, often at military funerals. In the more
than 20 years that the members of Westboro Baptist have
publicized their message, they have picketed nearly 600
funerals. Brief for Rutherford Institute as Amicus Curiae
7, n. 14.
Opinion of the Court
Marine Lance Corporal Matthew Snyder was killed in
Iraq in the line of duty. Lance Corporal Snyder’s father
selected the Catholic church in the Snyders’ hometown of
Westminster, Maryland, as the site for his son’s funeral.
Local newspapers provided notice of the time and location
of the service.
Phelps became aware of Matthew Snyder’s funeral and
decided to travel to Maryland with six other Westboro
Baptist parishioners (two of his daughters and four of
his grandchildren) to picket. On the day of the memorial
service, the Westboro congregation members picketed on
public land adjacent to public streets near the Maryland
State House, the United States Naval Academy, and
Matthew Snyder’s funeral. The Westboro picketers car
ried signs that were largely the same at all three locations.
They stated, for instance: “God Hates the USA/Thank God
for 9/11,” “America is Doomed,” “Don’t Pray for the USA,”
“Thank God for IEDs,” “Thank God for Dead Soldiers,”
“Pope in Hell,” “Priests Rape Boys,” “God Hates Fags,”
“You’re Going to Hell,” and “God Hates You.”
The church had notified the authorities in advance of its
intent to picket at the time of the funeral, and the picket
ers complied with police instructions in staging their
demonstration. The picketing took place within a 10- by
25-foot plot of public land adjacent to a public street,
behind a temporary fence. App. to Brief for Appellants
in No. 08–1026 (CA4), pp. 2282–2285 (hereinafter App.).
That plot was approximately 1,000 feet from the church
where the funeral was held. Several buildings separated
the picket site from the church. Id., at 3758. The West
boro picketers displayed their signs for about 30 minutes
before the funeral began and sang hymns and recited
Bible verses. None of the picketers entered church prop
erty or went to the cemetery. They did not yell or use
profanity, and there was no violence associated with the
picketing. Id., at 2168, 2371, 2286, 2293.
Cite as: 562 U. S. ____ (2011)
Opinion of the Court
The funeral procession passed within 200 to 300 feet of
the picket site. Although Snyder testified that he could
see the tops of the picket signs as he drove to the funeral,
he did not see what was written on the signs until later
that night, while watching a news broadcast covering the
event. Id., at 2084–2086.1
Snyder filed suit against Phelps, Phelps’s daughters,
and the Westboro Baptist Church (collectively Westboro or
the church) in the United States District Court for the
District of Maryland under that court’s diversity jurisdic
tion. Snyder alleged five state tort law claims: defama
tion, publicity given to private life, intentional infliction of
emotional distress, intrusion upon seclusion, and civil
Westboro moved for summary judgment
contending, in part, that the church’s speech was insu
lated from liability by the First Amendment. See 533
F. Supp. 2d 567, 570 (Md. 2008).
1 A few weeks after the funeral, one of the picketers posted a message
on Westboro’s Web site discussing the picketing and containing relig
iously oriented denunciations of the Snyders, interspersed among
lengthy Bible quotations. Snyder discovered the posting, referred to by
the parties as the “epic,” during an Internet search for his son’s name.
The epic is not properly before us and does not factor in our analysis.
Although the epic was submitted to the jury and discussed in the courts
below, Snyder never mentioned it in his petition for certiorari. See Pet.
for Cert. i (“Snyder’s claim arose out of Phelps’ intentional acts at
Snyder’s son’s funeral” (emphasis added)); this Court’s Rule 14.1(g)
(petition must contain statement “setting out the facts material to
consideration of the question presented”). Nor did Snyder respond to
the statement in the opposition to certiorari that “[t]hough the epic was
asserted as a basis for the claims at trial, the petition . . . appears to be
addressing only claims based on the picketing.” Brief in Opposition 9.
Snyder devoted only one paragraph in the argument section of his
opening merits brief to the epic. Given the foregoing and the fact that
an Internet posting may rais …
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