Supreme Ct Hears Rev Fred Phelps Sr Anti-Gay 1st Amendment Case
The Supreme Court has agreed to consider whether damages can be awarded to the father of a fallen Marine from a religious sect who picketed his son's funeral with vulgar placards applauding the death of American soldiers.
The First Amendment is considered in the case of Snyder v. Phelps. Do demonstrators have the right to aim inflammatory and hurtful speech at a funeral, which most people consider vile and obnoxious in the case of grieving families?
Topeka's Westboro Baptist Church
Fred W. Phelps Sr. heads the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas, which was founded in 1955. Most of the church's 70 members are family members of Phelps, says the lower court.
The Westboro Church conducts internet searches for notices of military funerals. It then aims to picket them with signs and placards condemning America's approval of homosexuals, considering the death of US troops to be divine justice.
Phelps Target Gay Funerals
The church first gained national media attention with its "God Hates Fags" protest outside the funeral of slain gay college student, Matthew Shepard. Last fall, it targeted 29 funerals to attend with its protest campaign.
When a lesbian from California was killed in an accident, the church's website posted pictures of her going into the flames of hell. Its placards boast slogans such as "God Hates America,""God Hates You," "Israel is Doomed," and "God Hates Fags."
The British government has officially banned the Phelps family from entering Great Britain, due to their hateful attitude toward gays.
Phelps' Celebrate Soldiers' Deaths
In October 2009, a Veterans association lawsuit against the Phelps family and its church for its claims that Americans should rejoice at the death of soldiers and "wash their feet in the blood of the wicked" was launched. The church and the Phelps family have been involved in numerous disputes in the media.
The church released a song entitled "God Hates the World", based on the famous "We are the World" song sung by Michael Jackson and other celebrity musicians.
Matthew Snyder Case vs Phelps and Westboro
In March 2006, the funeral of Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder, who was killed in Iraq, at St. John's Catholic Church in Westminster, Md., drew some Phelps members who bore signs such as "Thank God for Dead Soldiers."
Mr. Snyder had been awarded $5 million in damages after he had sued for intentional harm and emotional distress. The judgment was later rescinded by the Fourth US Circuit Court of Appeals, citing that although the speech of Phelps had been highly offensive and even "repugnant," it had been utilized in order to start debate about national issues which the Westboro Church see as a concern.
Constitutional Right to Protest Funerals?
The US government may adopt measures protecting the sanctity of solemn occasions, but the US Constitution requires room for protest and now the Supreme Court must decide just how much room this entails. The protests conducted by the Westboro Church are considered "peaceful".
The Westboro group, bearing such signs as "Thank God for Dead Soldiers" and "God Hates You," along with more vulgar messages, complied with local ordinances. It wasn't until Cpl. Snyder's father, Albert Snyder, saw television coverage of the protest that he learned of it. Mr. Snyder later discovered a screed on the church's Web site attacking him for raising his son a Catholic and supporting his service in the armed forces.
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