Discuss as:

Supreme Court rules controversial funeral protests are free speech

From NBC's Pete Williams:  In a powerful 8-1 ruling, the US Supreme Court today ruled in favor of a highly controversial group from Kansas that has made a practice of protesting at military funerals with signs that say "Thank God for Dead Soldiers," and "God Hates You."

It is a huge victory for a group whose antics have outraged many, including veterans groups.

The court today threw out a jury's award of damages to the father of a Marine killed in Iraq.  He sued the group, claiming that its protests at his son's funeral robbed him of his only chance to bury his son with dignity.   But today, the court said the group's actions were protected by the free speech guarantees of the First Amendment.

The subject of the protests -- gays in the military, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and controversies in the Catholic church -- are plainly matters of public interest.  The group's views were expressed in a public place, and the group abided by all local regulations that restrict protests at funerals.

"Speech is powerful.  It can stir people to action, move them to tears of both joy and sorrow, and -- as it did here -- inflict great pain," Roberts wrote.  But he said the Constitution protects even hurtful speech on public issues.

For more on the Court's decision in favor of the Westboro Baptist Church, click here.