The facts in the Snyder v. Phelps case are connected with events that took place after the church members started to picket over the death of fallen soldiers. The case attracted attention of religious groups, as well as the media. Snyder, who was a Marine Lance Corporal, died in line of duty, and his parents made a decision to have his body buried in Westminster, their home town.
His father gave information to the media and other forms of advertisement, such as, obituaries in magazines showing the time and location of the funeral. Following the proceeding of the case, the court did not deal well with the nature of the targeted speech which was presented before it. The speech was directed to an individual; hence it was considered to deal much with matters of public concern which should not have been dispositive. Therefore, the court mischaracterized the case coupled with the decision to make the verdict public.
The case led to an improper balance of speech on matters that were of public nature, which could result in the infliction of emotional distress. Furthermore, the decision of the court seems to allow the speaker to talk about anyone as long as the issue is of public nature. However, matters of public concern should be accorded the highest First Amendment protection. On the other hand, the act is seen as an improper test of speech which requires protection. A speech that may attract attention of the public could result in unattractive scenarios which should be null and void.
The case lost direction following the court’s decision, thus, altering the relationship between an individual’s status and speech which is of public concern. Therefore, the change in the court’s decision attracted the public at the expense of speech targeting an individual. In addition, the court dismissed the categorical approach to protect an individual’s speech from tort liability which was adopted in the Snyder v. Phelps Fourth Circuit. The court provided an explanation that the conflict in an individual’s interest which results from tort liability requires careful analysis of the competing interests.
Speech tort precedent provides that the greatest speech protection should be provided in a situation where the plaintiff is recognized as a public figure and the speech is of public concern, and the resulting injury can lead to emotional distress. Contrary to this, in case a speech is of private concern, then the resulting injury may only involve feelings. Therefore, the court should abide by the speech tort approach in the Snyder v. Phelps case and allow the plaintiff a tort remedy as he is a private person and the nature of the speech is private. In addition, the court should understand that the person suffered more than just hurt feelings. On the other hand, the court should consider the country’s contemporary social context and the threats to private individuals as a result of hatred for targeted individuals. Furthermore, the court should understand that denial of legal remedies for intentional misconduct can result in extra legal remedies.
The Applicability of the “Fighting Words” Doctrine Enunciated in the Chaplinsky Case
In the Chaplinsky case, the court mentioned that fighting words are considered a type of speech. In the doctrine of fighting words, the court mentioned that they are speech which can result in injury or cause an instant breach of peace. On the other hand, the court provided that the act under which the court convicted Chaplinsky of not using words which can attract attention of the public and cause an instant breach of peace to the targeted individuals.
Therefore, the court dismissed the case as a challenge to the constitution. After more than fifty years, the court never upheld speaker conviction under the breach of peace. Therefore, the prong of the doctrine narrowed its scope. In addition, the prong of the case, which prohibited the words that may attract public attention and incite or inflict injury, has never been used by the court to uphold the conviction of the speaker. Therefore, the history of the doctrine has led analysts to come to the conclusion that the court overruled the whole fighting word doctrine. Finally, the availability of an opportunity to modify the scope of the doctrine was acknowledged.