Wynny V. Phelps Case Study

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Snyder v. Phelps Summary of a First Amendment Landmark Supreme Court case: Snyder v. Phelps 131 S. Ct. 1207 (2011) (link is external) Facts: Fred Phelps and his followers at the Westboro Baptist Church believe that God punishes the United States for its tolerance of homosexuality, particularly within the military. To demonstrate their beliefs, Phelps and his followers often picket at military funerals. Albert Snyder's son, Lance Corporal Matthew Snyder, was killed in the line of duty in Iraq in 2006. Westboro picketed Matthew Snyder's funeral displaying signs that stated, for instance, "God Hates the USA/Thank God for 9/11," "Thank God for Dead Soldiers," and "Don't Pray for the USA." The church notified local authorities in advance that…show more content…
Reasoning: (Brennan, J.) The majority of the Court, agreed with Johnson and held that flag burning constitutes a form of "symbolic speech" that is protected by the First Amendment. "A law directed at the communicative nature of conduct must, like a law directed at speech itself, be justified by the substantial showing of need that the First Amendment requires." The majority concluded that the Texas law impermissibly discriminated upon viewpoint. The Court noted, "If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable." For example, although the law punished actions, such as flag burning, that might arouse anger in others, it specifically exempted from prosecution actions that were respectful of venerated objects, e.g., burning and burying a worn-out flag. The majority said that the government could not discriminate in this manner based solely upon what message was communicated. Finally, the Court concluded that Texas' interest in preventing breaches of the peace did not support Johnson's conviction because the conduct at issue did not threaten to disturb the peace. Moreover, Texas' interest in preserving the flag as a symbol of nationhood and national unity did not justify Johnson's criminal conviction for engaging in political
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