On Wednesday, March 2, The Supreme Court ruled 8-1 in favor of Westboro Baptist Church in Snyder v. Phelps claiming that the First Amendment protected their freedom of speech. The lawsuit began in 2006 when Westboro Baptist Church picketed Marine Lance Corporal Matthew Snyder’s funeral in Maryland with hurtful signs like "Thank God for Dead Soldiers." Albert Snyder, the father of the marine, sued Fred Phelps, the founder of the WBC, for intentional infliction of emotional distress. The Supreme Court ruled that they couldn’t be sued.
Chief Justice Roberts was quoted as saying: "The bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment [is that the government cannot punish words or ideas]… simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable."
Justice Samuel A. Alito, the only person on the Supreme Court who voted in favor of the Snyder family, argued that freedom to speech is not a license to wage a brutal verbal attack on private citizens.
As offensive as the WBC is, we all have the right to free speech, even if they are ugly and offensive. If the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Snyder family instead, it would set a dangerous precedent to the public’s free speech rights.
The second story involves the Government Records Access Management Act (GRAMA), which allows public access to government records. At Robert B. Sykes and Associates, we use GRAMA requests to get police reports, accident reports and dash cam videos to help with the civil rights cases we handle.
The passage of HB 477 restricts access to public records such as text messages, instant messages, and e-mails. This creates a problem because, hypothetically, an entire meeting can be carried on through text messages or an instant messaging service while an open meeting is occurring and the public would have no access to these restricted messages. This bill sets a precedent and Utah will be the only state with such restrictions to the public’s right to information.
On March 7, 2011, the State Senate voted to delay the bill from becoming law for the time being after Governor Gary Herbert voiced his displeasure with the bill. That morning his office received 853 calls on the matter, most of them against the bill. The next day approximately 100 people gathered at the Capitol Building urging the governor to veto the bill and not just delay it from becoming active until July 1. On Wednesday, Governor Hebert signed the amended bill to allow more time to discuss further changes.