Wednesday, October 06, 2010
High Court Struggles With Military Funerals Case : NPR
The Supreme Court on Wednesday weighed the thorny First Amendment issues raised by a fundamentalist church bent on picketing U.S. service members' funerals and a grieving father who wants it to stop.
The justices heard oral arguments in the case brought by Albert Snyder of York, Pa., against the head of the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan. Snyder's son, Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder, died in Iraq in 2006, and the congregation picketed his private funeral with signs declaring "Thank God for Dead Soldiers" and "God Hates the USA."
The church, led by the Rev. Fred Phelps, also posted a poem on its website that attacked Snyder and his ex-wife for the way they brought up Matthew.
Snyder wants the Supreme Court to reinstate a lower court's $5 million verdict against the church for intentional infliction of emotional distress and privacy violations.
Westboro members have picketed hundreds of military funerals to make their point that U.S. deaths in Afghanistan and Iraq are punishment for Americans' immorality, including tolerance of homosexuality and abortion.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said the question is whether the First Amendment must tolerate "exploiting this bereaved family."
There was no clear answer from the court.
Justice Stephen Breyer said the Internet aspect of the case, Snyder v. Phelps, troubled him because the church was saying something "very obnoxious" about private individuals. "To what extent can they put that on the Internet?" Breyer said. "I don't know what the rules ought to be."
The case pits Snyder's right to grieve privately against the church members' right to express their views, no matter how offensive.