Westboro Baptist Church fights for right to protest soldier funerals before Supreme Court

October 7th, 2010 by Staff

Source: NY Daily News — Free speech or hateful attacks?

The Supreme Court is hearing oral arguments Wednesday in a case involving the protest-happy Westboro Baptist Church, which was sued by a grieving father of a fallen U.S. soldier who accused the group of causing him emotional distress.

The Topeka, Kan.-based group, infamous for picketing funerals for fallen soldiers with signs like “Thank God for dead soldiers,” as well as railing against homosexuality, has been facing off against the family of Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder for nearly four years.

The 20-year-old died in a Humvee accident on March 3, 2006, in Iraq. Westboro targeted his funeral, as they have dozens of others, then continued its assault by posting on its website that the Catholic religion is “satanic,” and directly attacked Snyder’s parents, claiming they raised him to “commit adultery.”

“It is an insult to every American who has died for the freedom of speech,” Albert Snyder, Matthew’s father, said earlier this year. “No one in the history of the nation has ever protested like this. Don’t tell me that my son died for that.”

His lawsuit against Westboro Baptist Church went before a jury in Baltimore, which awarded him $10 million. The judge later lowered it to $5 million, but called the religious group and its leaders – the Rev. Fred Phelps and his daughter, Shirley Phelps-Roper — “distasteful and repugnant.”

Westboro fiercely defended their right to free speech, and have insisted they never targeted Snyder. They claim their protests are against the U.S. government and its tolerance of gays.

Snyder, who admitted during the trial that he never actually saw the protesters or signs during his son’s funeral, later learned of the group through the Web postings.

“I want them to stop doing this to our military men and women,” he said on Fox News on Tuesday. “I want the judges to hear that this case is not about free speech, it’s about targeted harassment.”

Last year, an appeals court threw out the verdict, which ultimately led to the case going before the Supreme Court.

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