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Snyder v. Phelps - The Supreme Court got it Right

The news over the last week has been filled with comments about the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision of Snyder v. Phelps.Many in the military and their families have expressed anger with the decision and have criticized the Supreme Court for what they see as the desecration of a service person’s funeral. While it is certainly appropriate to criticize both the message delivered at the protest, and, for that matter, the messengers themselves, criticism directed toward the Supreme Court is simply misplaced.

It goes without saying that the Freedom of Speech is one of the fundamental rights guaranteed to every citizen of the United States. This right is contained in the First Amendment to the Constitution and generally protects our rights as citizens to speak openly and freely while criticizing our government or political leaders. Over the years, the right to speak freely has been expanded and interpreted to include many types of speech that were controversial at the time that the Supreme Court examined them. These decisions have generally come to allow governments (whether local, state, federal or school related) to regulate when or how speech is expressed, generally described as time, manner and place regulations, rather than the content of the speech. The Court has, in reviewing First Amendment matters, been very critical of any effort to regulate the content of speech.

In short, while the government may be able to regulate when and how you make certain speeches, it cannot regulate the content of that speech. This provides all of us with the power to gather, speak about issues of the day and make sure our views on those issues are heard by those in power. Phelps was doing just that when he and his group protested at the Marine’s funeral. While many of us are critical of his message, Phelps’ right to express that message is exactly what the slain soldier fought for. Indeed the protection of the right to criticize the government, the decision to go to war and those that made those decisions honors the sacrifice made by the fallen soldier and his family to ensure that the right will be protected for years to come.