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Factbox: Important past Supreme Court free-speech cases

The Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday that a church has the free-speech right to hold anti-gay protests at military funerals to promote its view that God hates America for its tolerance of homosexuals.
/ Source: Reuters

The Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday that a church has the free-speech right to hold anti-gay protests at military funerals to promote its view that God hates America for its tolerance of homosexuals.

The 8-1 ruling was a victory for the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas, whose members have picketed hundreds of funerals of military members killed in Iraq or Afghanistan as part of their religious belief that God is punishing America for tolerating gays and lesbians.

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the opinion that the United States has chosen to protect even hurtful speech on public issues to make sure public debate is not stifled. He made clear the court was not agreeing with Westboro's views.

Following are some similar previous Supreme Court free-speech cases:

PARODY OF THE REVEREND JERRY FALWELL

The Supreme Court in 1988 threw out a $200,000 award to the Reverend Jerry Falwell over a Hustler magazine parody that said his first sexual encounter occurred with his mother in an outhouse.

The court ruled that Falwell, a popular televangelist who was a leader of the conservative Christian movement, was a public figure and therefore could not collect libel damages for the infliction of emotional distress. Falwell died in 2007.

The latest decision cited the precedent from the Falwell case.

AMERICAN NAZIS WIN RIGHT TO MARCH IN JEWISH SUBURB

American Nazis won the right more than 30 years ago to march in the heavily Jewish Chicago suburb of Skokie, Illinois, which had a significant population of Holocaust survivors.

The American Civil Liberties Union had argued in favor of a Nazi group that sought a permit to march in their uniforms displaying swastikas.

The Supreme Court reversed lower-court rulings that had blocked the march. A U.S. appeals court in Chicago ultimately ruled that free-speech rights covered the march.

The civil liberties group also supported the Westboro Church on the grounds that free-speech rights protected even outrageous or offensive messages.

FLAG BURNING AS PROTECTED FREE SPEECH

The Supreme Court ruled in 1989 that burning the American flag was an act of symbolic speech protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution.

The court, by a 5-4 vote, overturned the conviction of Gregory Lee Johnson, who had burned a flag as part of a protest during the Republican Party convention in 1984 in Dallas.

"The government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable," the court said in its majority opinion.