The Westboro Baptist Church hadparticipated in several picketing activities as a way of showingGod’s displease against the United States. Similarly, the churchfounded by Fred Phelps engaged in open condemnation of the CatholicChurch for its involvement in subsequent scandals (Findlaw, 2011). In2010, together with relatives, Phelps went to Maryland to picket thefuneral of a fallen Marine, Lance Corporal Matthew Snyder. Althoughthey carried around signs with sensitive messages, they conducted thepicketing according to the law’s requirements (Findlaw, 2011). Thepicketers stood on public land, approximately 1000 feet away from thefuneral. They also adhered to the police instructions as they hadalready received permission from authorities to continue with theirplans. However, the late marine’s father filed a court actionagainst the picketers citing emotional distress from theiractivities. After a jury held Westboro liable to the accusations, themembers immediately challenged the judgment, citing that the FirstAmendment fully protected the church’s speech. The court finallyruled that indeed the First Amendment shielded Westboro as theutterances were public concern issues which were true.Snyder v. Phelps, 09-751(March 2, 2011).
In the case Chaplinsky v. NewHampshire, the Supreme Court proclaimed that ‘fighting words’formed part of a group of speeches that were not protected under theFirst Amendment (Mannheimer, 1993). According to the court’sdefinition, fighting words define “those utterances that inflictinjury or cause an immediate breach of peace.” Chaplinskyv. New Hampshire, 315 U.S. 568 (1942). However, this doctrine should not have been applied asit cripples the core principles of free speech within democracies.Since the court refused to overrule the case, institutions willcontinue to misuse the doctrine to punish individuals for anyoffensive utterances.
Findlaw. (2011). FindLaw`s UnitedStates Supreme Court case and opinions. Retrieved January 18, 2017,from http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-supreme-court/09-751.html
Mannheimer, M. J. (1993). TheFighting Words Doctrine. ColumbiaLaw Review, 93(6),1527-1571.