Chaplain at Private School Created By Founder Of Methodist Church Resigns After Suggesting Gay People Should Stay Single: Snyder v. Phelps (2011)

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Rev. David Hull, a school chaplain at Kingswood private school in Bath, England, resigned after suggesting that gay people should stay single.Ditch the fake news ==> Click here to get news you can trust sent right to your inbox. It’s free!

According to The Guardian, the school was created by the founder of the Methodist church, John Wesley, in 1748.

Earlier this year, the Methodist church faced a divisive vote regarding whether its churches would permit same-sex marriages to take place in the church. https://www.theblaze.com/news/chaplain-at-private-school-created-by-founder-of-methodist-church-resigns-after-suggesting-gay-people-stay-single

Fred Phelps and his followers at the Westboro Baptist Church believe that God punishes the United States for its tolerance of homosexuality, particularly within the military. To demonstrate their beliefs, Phelps and his followers often picket at military funerals.
Snyder v. Phelps (2011)

Supreme Court Holding

Yes. The Supreme Court’s holding turned largely on its determination that the church was speaking on “matters of public concern” as opposed to “matters of purely private significance.” The Court explained that “[s]peech deals with matters of public concern when it can ‘be fairly considered as relating to any matter of political, social, or other concern to the community’ or when it ‘is a subject of general interest and of value and concern to the public.'” Speech on public issues is entitled to special protection under the First Amendment because it serves the “the principle that debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust, and wide-open.” To determine whether the speech dealt with matters of public concern, the Court examined the “content, form, and context” of the speech. The court noted that none of these factors determines the outcome of the case and that a court must evaluate all the circumstances of the speech, “including what was said, where it was said, and how it was said.”

Even though some of the picket signs arguably targeted only the Snyder family, most of them addressed issues regarding the moral conduct of the U.S., the fate of the U.S., and homosexuality in the military. As such, the “overall thrust and dominant theme” of the speech related to broader public issues. Furthermore, the church was picketing on public land adjacent to a public street. Finally, there was no pre-existing relationship between Westboro’s speech and Snyder that might suggest that the speech on public matters was intended to mask an attack on Snyder over a private matter. Therefore, the Court held that the Phelps and his followers were “speaking” on matters of public concern on public property and thus, were entitled to protection under the First Amendment.

The Rev. Fred Phelps, the founder of the Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church, made a career out of being reprehensible to many people. Phelps and his followers came to national prominence in 1998 by picketing the funeral of Matthew Shepard, displaying signs the used slurs directed at homosexuals. In the wake of 9/11, church members began demonstrating at military funerals, using similarly incendiary rhetoric.

In 2006, members of the church demonstrated at the funeral of Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder, who was killed in Iraq. Snyder’s family sued Westboro and Phelps for intentional infliction of emotional distress, and the case began making its way through the legal system.

In an 8-1 ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld Westboro’s right to picket. While acknowledging that Westboro’s “contribution to public discourse may be negligible,” Chief Justice John Roberts’ ruling rested in existing U.S. hate speech precedent: “Simply put, the church members had the right to be where they were.” 

Supreme Court Holding

Yes. The Supreme Court’s holding turned largely on its determination that the church was speaking on “matters of public concern” as opposed to “matters of purely private significance.” The Court explained that “[s]peech deals with matters of public concern when it can ‘be fairly considered as relating to any matter of political, social, or other concern to the community’ or when it ‘is a subject of general interest and of value and concern to the public.'” Speech on public issues is entitled to special protection under the First Amendment because it serves the “the principle that debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust, and wide-open.” To determine whether the speech dealt with matters of public concern, the Court examined the “content, form, and context” of the speech. The court noted that none of these factors determines the outcome of the case and that a court must evaluate all the circumstances of the speech, “including what was said, where it was said, and how it was said.”

Even though some of the picket signs arguably targeted only the Snyder family, most of them addressed issues regarding the moral conduct of the U.S., the fate of the U.S., and homosexuality in the military. As such, the “overall thrust and dominant theme” of the speech related to broader public issues. Furthermore, the church was picketing on public land adjacent to a public street. Finally, there was no pre-existing relationship between Westboro’s speech and Snyder that might suggest that the speech on public matters was intended to mask an attack on Snyder over a private matter. Therefore, the Court held that the Phelps and his followers were “speaking” on matters of public concern on public property and thus, were entitled to protection under the First Amendment.

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