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First Amendment

4th Circuit Nixes Award Against Anti-Gay Funeral Protesters

Posted Sep 25, 2009 6:55 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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A federal appeals court has cited the First Amendment in a decision that overturns a $5 million judgment against members of an anti-gay church who protested at a soldier’s Maryland funeral.

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals based in Richmond, Va., said the protesters’ signs carried ''imaginative and hyperbolic rhetoric'' protected by the First Amendment, the Associated Press reports.

Signs carried messages such as, “Thank God for dead soldiers.'' The protesters, members of the Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas, believe God is punishing America for tolerating homosexuality, abortion and divorce. They stage the funeral protests to draw attention to their beliefs.

The 4th Circuit panel said the First Amendment protected even "distasteful and repugnant" speech, according to the Topeka Capital-Journal and the Baltimore Sun.

The plaintiff, Albert Snyder, was originally awarded $11 million for emotional distress and invasion of privacy caused by the group’s protest at the funeral of his son, a soldier killed in Iraq. A federal judge reduced the award to $5 million.

Snyder’s lawyer, Sean Summers, said he would appeal. "There are a lot people sending their kids over to war, and unfortunately, they're not all coming back,” he told the Baltimore Sun. “You would think that at least we could offer them dignity and respect."

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