March 8, 2010
Supreme Court to Rule on Westboro Protests
The Supreme Court has decided to rule on a case deciding whether the Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church is protected under the First Amendment when they protest at military funerals.
Westboro pastor Fred Phelps leads other members in funeral protests to suggest that military deaths are punishment for the country's tolerance of homosexuality.
The Associated Press reports that justices will hear an appeal from the father of a Marine killed in Iraq, after they picketed outside his son's funeral in Maryland. A signs at the funeral combined the U.S. Marine Corps motto with a slur against gay men, the AP reports. Lyle Denniston has more background on the SCOTUS blog.
In Albert Snyder’s appeal, his lawyers argued that the Supreme Court’s protection of speech about public issues, especially the Justices’ 1988 decision in Hustler Magazine v. Falwell, does not apply “to private individuals versus private individuals.” If it does apply, the petition said, “the victimized private individual is left without recourse.” The Circuit Court decision, it added, encourages private individuals to use hyperbolic language to gain constitutional protection “even if that language is targeted at another private individual at a private, religious funeral.”
Even if the Hustler decision does apply to the kind of remarks at issue, the petition asserted, the case also raises the issue of whether those who attend a funeral are like a “captive audience” and thus need protection against intruders who were not invited.
The case will be argued in the fall, according to the AP.
(h/t Debra Cassens Weiss)