High Court to Hear Military Funeral Protest Case

By: AP
By: AP

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The father of a Marine killed in Iraq is asking the Supreme Court to reinstate a $5 million verdict against members of a fundamentalist church who picketed his son's funeral with signs like "Thank God for Dead Soldiers" and "God Hates the USA."

The court is hearing arguments Wednesday in the dispute between Albert Snyder of York, Pa., and members of the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan. The case pits Snyder's right to grieve privately against the church members' right to say what they want, no matter how offensive.

Westboro members, led by the Rev. Fred Phelps, have picketed many military funerals to make their point that U.S. deaths in Afghanistan and Iraq are punishment for Americans' immorality, including tolerance of homosexuality and abortion.

They welcome the attention the protests have brought, mocking their critics and vowing not to change their ways whatever the outcome at the Supreme Court.

"No American should ever be required to apologize for following his or her conscience," said Margie Phelps, a daughter of Fred Phelps and the lawyer who is arguing the case for the church.

Fundamentalist church members turned out in advance of the argument Wednesday morning, to march in front of the court with placards of the type they've been carrying to military funerals. One young boy held up a sign that reads, "God Hates You."
A line of people who trying to get into the argument stretched around the corner of the high court atop Capitol Hill.

Snyder undertook the lawsuit after the Phelpses picketed the funeral of his son, Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder, in March 2006. The Marine was killed in a Humvee accident.

Snyder won an $11 million verdict against the church for intentional infliction of emotional distress, among other claims. A judge reduced the award to $5 million before the federal appeals court in Richmond, Va., threw out the verdict altogether, citing the church's First Amendment rights.

For Snyder, the case is not about free speech but harassment. "I had one chance to bury my son and it was taken from me," Snyder said.
Forty-eight states, 42 U.S. senators and veterans groups have sided with Snyder, asking the court to shield funerals from the Phelpses' "psychological terrorism."

While distancing themselves from the church's message, media organizations, including The Associated Press, have called on the court to side with the Phelpses because of concerns that a victory for Snyder could erode speech rights.


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  • by Kelly Location: Lansing on Oct 6, 2010 at 02:01 PM
    I do find it interesting that the media continues to report that it is a Baptist church, when the national Baptist coalition has denounced the group and stated that they are not now, nor have they ever been a 'Baptist' church. It's unfortunate that groups like that can basically call themselves anything they want ... including Baptists. While I'm a Catholic so it doesn't affect my Religon, it does make me wonder why the media wants to perpetuate the negative publicity toward the Baptists.
  • by Anonymous on Oct 6, 2010 at 12:59 PM
    Our fallen military men and women deserve the highest of honors at the funerals. To "protest" by spewing filthy bile at their grieving families is more than despicable. The right to free speech should only go so far. The court should eliminate this group's ability to intrude at or near a military funeral or at the memorial service of a gay person or someone who died of AIDS.
  • by Jackie on Oct 6, 2010 at 11:48 AM
    while I am not for war, I am against what this "Church" group did. This man was killed in a war, and deserves the same respect any one else who dies gets. What this group did is wrong, I hope the father gets his money.
  • by david Location: charlotte on Oct 6, 2010 at 10:34 AM
    this is not about free speech or the rights of a person to grieve this about what is morally right or wrong and this is wrong you dont picket a funeral i dont care who it is its just like last month when someone burned a quran you can do it according to free speech or just like abortion according to the law you can do it but is it the morally right thing to do this is what gives christens a bad name i am a born agin washed in the blood spirit filled man and no where in the new testament does god say that he hates pepol in fact just the opposite he loves pepol he hates the sin pepol commit and will judge them according to the sin if they die with out jesus the bible is the written word of god not the quran not any books written for self help and not some guroo down the street the way i know this is compare other religons all of them are pepol trying to get to god christianty and the bible is gods atempt to reveal himself to man .
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