Westboro Baptist Church Court Case Analysis

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Ben Lehman
Comm 492
IRAC Exercise Paper (Snyder v. Phelps)
Step IIn this case, the plaintiff is Albert Snyder. He is the father of a recently killed Marine, Lance Corporal Matthew Snyder. The defendant is Fred W. Phelps Sr. He is a pastor and leader of the Westboro Baptist Church based in Topeka, KS. The church has been known to express its beliefs that "God hates America" through protests and demonstrations at military funerals across the country. In their history they have been at close to 600 funerals. Snyder's funeral was set to be held in his hometown of Westminster, VA. When Phelps learned of the time he gathered a group of church members comprised of his own family and went to demonstrate at Snyder's funeral. The proper authorities were notified that the protest was taking place, and it was in a public place adjacent to a public street. It was also located very close to the church where Matthew Snyder's funeral was being held and the route his funeral procession would take. There was no excessive demonstrating by the members of Westboro church nor did they ever go onto the property of the church where the funeral was. Albert Snyder only noticed the demonstrators but not their message when he passed in the procession. He saw what their signs said later on the news.

Snyder took Phelps to court in front of a jury and won on 3 of 5 claims. Phelps would now take this decision to the court of appeals arguing that his demonstration was protected speech under the First Amendment. The Court of Appeals reviewed the District Court's ruling and agreed, reversing the first of the three claims won by Snyder. Then, instead of ruling on the decisions of the other two claims separately, they grouped them together with the first and reversed the whole group. They decided that since damages could not be recovered for one claim, they could not be recovered for any of them. Upon review the Supreme Court upheld the decision of the Fourth Circuit Court of...
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