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A member of Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas, protests outside Holy Ghost Church during the funeral service for Marine Lance Cpl. Philip Martini April 19, 2006 in South Holland, Illinois.
How does free speech pertain to solemn occasions, and when should restrictions be imposed? In 2006, Fred Phelps and members of his fundamentalist Christian church protested with signs reading "God Hates You" and "Thank God for Dead Soldiers"—and worse—outside the funeral of Lance Corporal Matthew Snyder, a U.S. Marine killed in Iraq. While the Marine's father did not learn about the protest until he saw television coverage later, he sued Phelps and his followers for the emotional distress it caused. After a favorable verdict, the Fourth U.S. Court of Appeals threw out the case on free speech grounds. The ruling was appealed to the Supreme Court, which plans to hear arguments this fall. How will the high court rule?
Eugene Volokh, Gary T. Schwartz Professor of Law, UCLA School of Law
Alan E. Brownstein, UC Davis Professor of Law, Boochever and Bird Chair for the Study and Teaching of Freedom and Equality