She said those who engage in public discussion of public issues like the war in Iraq and gay rights are entitled to the protection of the First Amendment, provided their statements are not false.
The case stems from a March 2006 demonstration conducted outside the funeral of Matthew Snyder, a US marine killed in Iraq.
The question before the court is whether the Westboro Baptist Church can be sued for intentional infliction of emotional distress to Matthew’s father, Albert.
Supporters of Albert Snyder argue that the First Amendment should not shield those who use outrageous words that cause serious injury to others.
Free speech advocates argue that the First Amendment must be viewed as broad enough to tolerate even highly offensive speech to protect unpopular minorities from censorship by the majority.
At the Maryland funeral, seven Westboro members stood in a cordoned-off area about 1,000 feet from the church. They sang songs and waved their signs.
The protest location was approved by police, and the demonstrators did not use an amplifier. They conducted their protest for a half-hour and left 8 minutes after the funeral began.
Albert Snyder was deeply upset by the protest and the subsequent press coverage of the event. He told reporters that the Westboro Church’s selection of his son’s funeral for the protest had ruined his final moments with Matthew. He hired a lawyer and sued.