When a person is arrested for a crime such as disorderly conduct, he may argue that he was actually arrested for attempting to engage in freedom of speech, especially since the definition of such crimes is often subjective. “Disorderly” could mean that someone is damaging property. But, could it also mean that he is simply saying something that he is entitled to say which happens to be unpopular?
As legal professionals studying the First Amendment, we do not care about protecting popular and polite speech, because no one is going to be arrested or sued for standing on a corner and quietly saying that he likes the government. The real test of the First Amendment is how well it protects people who say unpopular things.
Consider the Westboro Baptist Church. This group has picketed soldiers’ funerals for more than 20 years with extremely unpopular messages. One family sued the Church for disrupting Marine Lance Corporal Matthew Snyder’s funeral with signs saying things like, “God Hates the USA/Thank God for 9/11” and “Thank God for Dead Soldiers.” That cases ended up in the U.S. Supreme Court, which issued an opinion that you can find on Westlaw at Snyder v. Phelps, 131 S.Ct. 1207 (2011).
(The opinion can also be found on the Supreme Court website at: http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/10pdf/09-751.pdf).
Put aside your personal beliefs about the Church’s message and focus only on the factors addressed by the U.S. Supreme Court. After reading the case, explain the Supreme Court’s ruling and analyze in detail why it reached the conclusion that it did. In your analysis, be sure to include answers to these questions:
1) Why was the physical layout and distance important in this case?
2) Why was the timing important in this case?
3) What is speech of a “public concern” verses a “private concern,” and why does it matter in this case?
4) What does it mean to have a public debate which is, “uninhibited, robust, and wide open?”
5) If the Westboro Baptist Church had done things differently, it might not have been protected by the First Amendment. If you represented a client who planned a controversial protest (perhaps for or against restrictions on abortion, marijuana, or any other controversial topic) what advice would you give?
To receive full points, your answer should avoid giving personal opinions or statements about whether you like or dislike the messages and should focus strictly on a professional analysis of the law. Be sure to also respond to your classmates throughout the week.
Choose two states’ holdings, as presented at: Source: Holdings. Retrieved from http://davelippman.com/LawoftheMall.html to contrast. Explain the case facts and the rationale for the courts’ decisions in both cases that you choose. Between the two state holdings that you choose, with which one do you agree? Why do you agree with it? Respond also to the postings of others on the Discussion Board.
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