A Westboro Baptist Church protester.
Are the Westoro Baptist Church protesters using their right to free speech or using hate speech? CC by David Shankbone/Wikimedia Commons

These days, it seems that almost no Marine funeral is safe from the allegedly faith-based protests of Fred Phelps and the Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church. Now the Supreme Court is getting involved, reports The Baltimore Sun. The Supreme Court is deliberating as to whether the Westboro Baptist Church’s protest of a 2006 funeral for an Iraq war veteran veered into hate speech territory and whether the family of the deceased solider is due a previously awarded (but later rescinded) monetary award for invasion of privacy and emotional distress.

Baptist Church’s act in Westboro being called a hate speech

Albert Snyder, father of deceased soldier, said he saw the Westboro Baptist Church protesters on TV after the funeral on March 3, 2006. Signs saying things like “Thank God for dead soldiers,” were displayed by Westboro protesters during the funeral at the St. John’s Roman Catholic Church in Westminster, Md. The attack was aimed at the “permissive” government. It was supposedly not toward the Marine himself. Fred Phelps’ daughter, Shirley Phelps-Roper, maintains a website that that the Westboro Baptist Church uses to attack the Catholic faith, the Marine who died and his family, reports the Sun.

Invasion of privacy and emotional distress causes suit against Westboro

Westboro Baptist Church had to deal with a lawsuit for intentional infliction of emotional distress and invasion of privacy from Snyder. The trial judge in Baltimore, who found Westboro’s actions outrageous and extremely offensive, upheld the jury verdict. The award was only $5 million rather than the $11 million requested. The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said that the Westboro Baptist Church’s messages were protected by freedom of speech in 2009, which changed the Baltimore verdict. The Albert Snyder appeal will be heard in the Supreme Court. The Sun reports that the decision will be made on whether a “private figure” can sue as a “target of hateful speech.”

Articles cited

The Baltimore Sun: http://baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/bs-md-snyder-arguments-20101006,0,5927085.story

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