The US Supreme Court has agreed to consider whether vitriolic anti-gay protestors who picket the funerals of US soldiers are protected by free speech laws.
The emotionally-charged case was brought by the family of US Marine Matthew Snyder, who was killed in combat in Iraq in 2006.
His family organized a private Christian funeral for him in Maryland that attracted members of the radical Westboro Church led by Baptist preacher Fred Phelps.
Phelps and his congregation regularly demonstrate at military funerals, carrying inflammatory signs to draw attention to their anti-gay message.
The court said it would consider an appeal from the father of a slain Marine who hopes to reinstate a $5 million verdict against the Topeka-based Westboro Baptist Church.
Albert Snyder of York, Pa., successfully sued the church in a Maryland federal court in 2007 arguing its funeral protest was an invasion of privacy that caused his family emotional distress.
But last fall an appeals court reversed the $5 million verdict, ruling the church’s protests were protected by the First Amendment. The Supreme Court will hear Snyder’s appeal this fall.
“It’s freedom of speech to some,” said Snyder, whose son Matthew was killed in Iraq. “To me it’s not what my son fought for. They’re kicking people in the face when they’re already down on the ground. All I was trying to do was bury my son.”
Westboro, an unaffiliated church with fewer than 100 members, went from local curiosity to national notoriety after it began protesting military funerals. Church members believe the deaths of military personnel — as well as tsunamis, Hurricane Katrina and the 2006 Amish school shooting — are God’s punishment for the tolerance of homosexuality.
It’s a theology summed up on their hand-painted protest signs: Thank God for 9/11; America is Doomed; and Thank God for Dead Troops.
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