U.S. Supreme Court

Supreme Court to Decide First Amendment Rights of Funeral Picketers

The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to decide whether anti-gay picketers at military funerals are protected by the First Amendment.

The father of a Marine killed in Iraq is seeking to reinstate a $5 million judgment against the picketers, according to SCOTUSblog and the Associated Press.

The picketers, members of a Kansas church, show up at the funerals to publicize their belief that military deaths are punishment for tolerance of homosexuality. They carry signs with slogans such as “God Hates Fags” and “Priests Rape Boys.”

At the funeral for Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder, picketers carried signs that read, “Thank God for dead soldiers” and “Semper fi fags.” A federal jury in Baltimore had awarded Snyder’s father $2.9 million in compensatory damages and $8 million in punitive damages. The trial judge reduced the total award to $5 million, but the Richmond, Va.-based 4th U.S. Circuit Court of appeals overturned the verdict on First Amendment grounds.

The 4th Circuit had ruled the protesters’ speech was protected because it was a form of hyperbole, not an assertion of actual facts.

According to SCOTUSblog, the case “focuses on a significant question of First Amendment law: the degree of constitutional protection given to private remarks made about a private person, occurring in a largely private setting.” Lawyers for Snyder’s father, Albert Snyder, contend the 4th Circuit decision encourages the use of hyperbolic language to gain First Amendment protection, SCOTUSblog says.

The case is Snyder v. Phelps.

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