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U.S. high court rules for funeral protesters

March 02, 2011|From Reuters
  • Protesters from the Westboro Baptist Church hold signs outside the U.S. Supreme Court, as a counter-protester carries a U.S. Marine Corps flag.
Protesters from the Westboro Baptist Church hold signs outside the U.S.… (Amy Davis / Baltimore Examiner…)

The Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday that a church has the legal right to stage anti-gay protests at U.S. military funerals to promote its claim that God is angry at America for its tolerance of homosexuality.

In a case pitting free-speech versus privacy rights, the nation's high court held that the protest messages and picketing at a private funeral were protected by the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment.

The court's 8-1 ruling was a defeat for Albert Snyder, the father of a Marine killed in Iraq in 2006.

He had appealed to the Supreme Court after the family's funeral service at a Roman Catholic Church in Westminster, Maryland, drew unwanted protests by members of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas.

The protesters carried signs that stated, ?God Hates You,? ?You Are Going To Hell,? and ?Thank God for Dead Soldiers.?

Westboro Pastor Fred Phelps and other church members have protested at hundreds of funerals of military members killed in Iraq or Afghanistan as part of their religious view that God is punishing America for its tolerance of gays and lesbians.

They cited the U.S. military's ?don't ask, don't tell? policy that allows gays and lesbians to serve as long as they do not make their sexuality known. Snyder's 20-year-old son, Matthew, was not gay.

Phelps founded the church in 1955 and it has about 70 members made up mostly of his relatives. Phelps and his followers have protested at more than 200 military funerals.

In the court's opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that the ruling was narrow and said free-speech rights dictated the outcome.

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