The Supreme Court announced today that it will review the case of Snyder V. Phelps.
Anti-gay protesters led by Fred Phelps and his organization The Westboro Baptist Church often protest at the funerals of fallen soldiers. A case was brought by the father of Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew A. Snyder, a solider whose funeral was picketed by the Westboro Baptist Church in 2006. Phelps and his followers believe that death of American soldiers and numerous other tragedies are god’s punishment for tolerance towards gays and lesbians. Phelps and his followers often display signs with slogans such as “Thank God for dead soldiers”, “America is doomed” and “Semper fi fags” at their protests.
A Baltimore, Maryland jury awarded the father, Albert Snyder, more than $10 million in damages for emotional distress and invasion of privacy. This amount was cut in half and then thrown out by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit in Richmond. In their decision the three judge panel said the signs couldn’t be reasonably understood to refer directly to Snyder or his son. The court determined that as vile as the speech may be it was protected.
Snyder appealed to the Supreme Court, arguing that someone attending a family member’s private funeral is entitled to state protection from unwanted communication, such as the sort of remarks and displays regularly appearing at Westboro Baptist protests.
Phelps and Westboro Baptist argue that the appeal should be rejected and that the picketing occurred more than 1,000 feet from the funeral that was a public event, and church members were therefore engaging in speech that was protective and not disruptive. The court will hear arguments in the case in the upcoming October term.