Snyder v. Phelps


Opinion of the Court

ence doctrine only sparingly to protect unwilling listeners from protected speech. For example, we have upheld a statute allowing a homeowner to restrict the delivery of offensive mail to his home, see Rowan v. Post Office Dept., 397 U. S. 728, 736–738 (1970), and an ordinance prohibiting picketing “before or about” any individual’s residence, Frisby, 487 U. S., at 484–485.

Here, Westboro stayed well away from the memorial service. Snyder could see no more than the tops of the signs when driving to the funeral.  And there is no indication that the picketing in any way interfered with the funeral service itself.  We decline to expand the captive audience doctrine to the circumstances presented here.

Because we find that the First Amendment bars Snyder from recovery for intentional infliction of emotional distress or intrusion upon seclusion—the alleged unlawful activity Westboro conspired to accomplish—we must likewise hold that Snyder cannot recover for civil conspiracy based on those torts.


Our holding today is narrow.  We are required in FirstAmendment cases to carefully review the record, and the reach of our opinion here is limited by the particular facts before us. As we have noted, “the sensitivity and significance of the interests presented in clashes between First Amendment and [state law] rights counsel relying on limited principles that sweep no more broadly than the appropriate context of the instant case.”  Florida Star v. B. J. F., 491 U. S. 524, 533 (1989).

Westboro believes that America is morally flawed; many Americans might feel the same about Westboro.  Westboro’s funeral picketing is certainly hurtful and its contribution to public discourse may be negligible.  But Westboro addressed matters of public import on public property, in a peaceful manner, in full compliance with the

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