Thursday, March 3, 2011

Jeffrey Toobin: "Funeral protest ruling painful but right"

March 2, 2011

Jeffrey Toobin is a senior legal analyst for CNN and a staff writer at The New Yorker magazine, where he covers legal affairs.

The Supreme Court ruled that a Kansas church whose members travel the country to protest at military funerals, holding signs that say "Thank God for dead soldiers" and "God blew up the troops," has a right to continue such demonstrations.

The case was brought by Albert Snyder, whose 20-year-old son, Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder, was killed in Iraq in 2006. The family-dominated Westboro Baptist Church, run by Fred Phelps, protested at Matthew Snyder's funeral to spread their opinion that American deaths in Afghanistan and Iraq are God's punishment for U.S. immorality and tolerance of homosexuality and abortion. talked to CNN senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin about Snyder v. Phelps, which pitted the right of families to grieve in privacy against the First Amendment right to free expression. What do you make of the Supreme Court ruling?

Jeffrey Toobin: This is a very painful, difficult legal case, but the fact that it's an 8-to-1 Supreme Court ruling illustrates that the result was not particularly controversial, when you consider the protest did not disrupt the funeral at all.

Family member: Supreme Court has no sense

That the protests couldn't be heard or seen from the funeral was important -- the First Amendment allows what's known as "time, place and manner." You can't exercise your First Amendment right by using a bullhorn in a residential neighborhood at 3 in the morning, but free expression has to be allowed in public spaces with impunity if it does not disrupt the community.