In an important reaffirmation of free speech principles, the US Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled that noxious, highly offensive protests conducted outside solemn military funerals are protected by the First Amendment when the protests take place in public and address matters of public concern.

The high court ruled 8 to 1 that members of the Topeka, Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church are entitled to stage their controversial antigay protests even when they cause substantial injury to family members and others attending the funeral of a loved one.

“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,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the majority opinion. “On the facts before us, we cannot react to that pain by punishing the speaker,” he said.

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