The First Amendment - Freedom of Speech
You don't really have to go to law school to know that in America we have this great freedom called the Freedom of Speech. Whether we realize that this freedom is contained in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution or not, we all know that it exists. What many of us DON'T know, however, is that, contrary to popular belief, the First Amendment Freedom of Speech is not a license to say whatever the hell we want whenever the hell we feel like it. In other words, Freedom of Speech is not absolute. It does have limitations. For example, if you say something false that is damaging to somebody else's character, they have the right to sue you for "slander" (if its in print it's called "libel"). Pleading to the judge about your free speech rights would not get you off the hook for a defamation claim. Another example of the limitations on free speech would be shouting words that you know are likely to incite a riot. The First Amendment doesn't protect your freedom of speech there either. See Brandenburg v. Ohio,
The Snyder v. Phelps Dilemma
Snyder presents a difficult situation for the Supreme Court. One the one hand, it must be careful not to chip away or weaken the broad freedom that we enjoy from the First Amendment. On the other hand, the Court has to make sure that folks aren't out there doing outlandish shit that harms others while conveniently hiding behind the First Amendment. We can all agree (well most of us anyway) that, given the context of the funeral, the signs in the pic above are not only in poor taste but could also cause emotional distress to the family members of the deceased. However, if the Court comes back with a decision that says that the Phelpses should be liable for their protests, it could have unintended negative results for all of us. As the L.A. Times put it:
Though the case is about funeral protests, [Justice] Breyer said the court's ruling will have an effect on the Internet, because it tests whether vicious personal attacks — often made by bloggers — can lead to lawsuits.Per Yahoo News:
Forty-eight states, 42 U.S. senators and veterans groups have sided with Snyder, asking the court to shield funerals from the Phelpses' "psychological terrorism."
The Supreme Court is expected to make their ruling on this case sometime in Spring 2011.While distancing themselves from the church's message, media organizations, including The Associated Press, have called on the court to side with the Phelpses because of concerns that a victory for Snyder could erode speech rights.
1. So which way should the Supreme Court rule on this case and why?
2. Is there any way for the Court to rule against the Phelpses but still uphold the First Amendment right to Free Speech?
3. What happens if the Phelpses win?
4. What happens if Snyder wins?