In an 8-1 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that Westboro Baptist Church was free to picket military funerals with signs like "God Hates Fags" and "You're Going to Hell." Chief Justice John Roberts said, "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. On the facts before us, we cannot react to that pain by punishing the speaker. As a nation we have chosen a different course — to protect even hurtful speech on public issues to ensure that we do not stifle public debate."
The case made its way to the nation's highest court after a federal appeals court threw out a $5 million judgement for the family of a soldier. Arthur Snyder sued Westboro's leader, Rev. Fred Phelps, for $11 million after Westboro picketers using Snyder's son's 2006 funeral in Maryland to protest about gays in the military. In the ruling, Chief Justice Roberts also pointed out that the Westboro protesters were 1,000 feet from the church and followed police rules. But Justice Samuel Alito, the lone dissenter, wrote, "Our profound national commitment to free and open debate is not a license for the vicious verbal assault that occurred in this case." You can read the opinion here (PDF).
Phelps has explained the protests by saying, "When the whole country is given over to sodomy and sodomite enablers ... the country needs this preaching." The AP also reports, "While distancing themselves from the church's message, media organizations, including The Associated Press, urged the court to side with the Phelps family because of concerns that a victory for Snyder could erode speech rights."