Washington The father of a Marine killed in Iraq says anti-gay protesters who showed up with inflammatory signs at his son’s funeral in Maryland should not be given blanket protection by the Constitution.
Attorneys for Albert Snyder submitted a 67-page brief Monday in their case now before the U.S. Supreme Court. The attorneys argued the First Amendment does not fully protect the protesters because they infringed on Snyder’s own rights to peacefully assemble with family and friends for the funeral.
Snyder, a Pennsylvania resident, is challenging the protests held by the fundamentalist Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas. Westboro pastor Fred Phelps and other members — many of them Phelps’ family members — have become well known for their funeral protests, which they have used to advertise their belief that U.S. Iraq war deaths are punishment for the nation’s tolerance of homosexuality.
Church members have protested at numerous soldiers’ funerals nationwide. In March 2006, they protested at the funeral of 20-year-old Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder, Albert Snyder’s son.
Lawyers wrote that the church members’ actions “interfered with the Snyders’ right to bury their son, a religious ceremony entitled to constitutional protection.”
In 2007, a jury found against Westboro and awarded Snyder nearly $11 million as compensation for emotional distress and invasion of privacy. That award was later reduced and then overturned by a court of appeals. Snyder’s attorneys are asking the high court to overturn the ruling that found that the Phelps’ conduct was “rhetorical hyperbole” protected by the First Amendment.
The Supreme Court agreed in March to take the case.