Most of the Westboro Baptist Church's folowers are members of Fred Phelps' large family. Photo by Craig Roberts

Snyder v. Phelps case arguments heard

The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments today from both sides of the Snyder v. Phelps case, which will decide whether a father's right to privacy and peaceable assembly at the funeral of his son outweighs the free speech rights of a religious group that staged a protest near the solemn event.

The plaintiff, Albert Snyder, is claiming damages for the "intentional infliction of emotional distress" by members of the Westboro Baptist Church, founded by Fred Phelps of Topeka, Kan. The plaintiff's son, U.S. Marine Lance Corporal Matthew Snyder, was killed while on active duty in Iraq.

At the March 2006 funeral of Snyder's son, the Westboro group disrupted the event with anti-gay signs, some of which read, "Fag Troops," "Thank God for IEDs," "God Hates Fags," and "Thank God for Dead Soldiers." The Phelps sect believes that God is allowing troops in Iraq and Afghanistan to be killed as a punishment for liberal attitudes in America toward homosexuals.

"Anyone who goes out of their way to desecrate a military funeral in such a hateful manner has no respect for the sacrifices our warriors have made, and continue to make, in combat," said Jimmie Foster, The American Legion National Commander. "We support Albert Snyder's right to a peaceful funeral for his son, and we certainly hope the U.S. Supreme Court rules in his favor."

The American Legion filed a "friend of the court" brief on behalf of Snyder and has raised more than $17,000 in donations to his legal defense fund.

In a hearing that lasted about an hour, Supreme Court justices listened to arguments by attorneys Sean Summers for the plaintiff and Margie Phelps for her father, the defendant. The court directed the lawyers to address three questions:

1. Does Hustler Magazine, Inc. v. Falwell apply to suit between two private persons concerning a private manner?

2. Does the First Amendment's freedom of speech trump the First Amendment's freedom of religion and peaceful assembly?

3. Does an individual attending a family member's funeral constitute a captive audience, who is entitled to state protection from unwanted communication?

According to Mark Seavey, an American Legion official who sat in on the hearing, Justice Ruth Ginsburg thought the question was even easier: Whether the First Amendment must tolerate "exploiting this bereaved family."

The Supreme Court probably won't make a final determination on the case until next year, according to Seavey.


  1. I'm trying to still figure out what Bible they are reading from. In studying for my doctorates in theology, I have had to learn about the different religion. I have read some of each of their bibles. And not one have I found where God has said He hates anyone. I do believe He says to hate the sin but love the sinner. And His message to everyone is to love one another. It's amazing how many times that is mentioned in the Bible. I will not hate these people for what they have done. I will pray for them though. I will pray that God will show them to open their minds and see what they are doing is really wrong. Bless their hearts.. Rev Howard. Post 47
  2. I, too, swore to defend my country against all enemies, foreign or domestic. I DID NOT swear to brig pain or anguish to the freinds or famly members of a fallen soldier, sailor, or any other person. My son was killed recently and I dreaded the idea of protestors showing up at his military funeral. The Patriot Guard offered to provide a flag patrol at his funeral and escort to the cemtery, and God bless them, they did a beautiful, appropriate, and much appreciated job of it. Almost everyone present was brought to tears by their loving display of respect and honor. I can't imagine doing anything to disrespect someone's final moments on earth or their loved ones' chance to pay their final respects, and anyone who does so should be ashamed of themselves. The Pilgrims had the right idea with putting people into stocks for public punishment and would be perfect for those who dishonor the dead. ANY DEAD. How would you feel if it was your loved one???
  3. As a veteran of 15 years active service in combat arms and EOD, as well as Desert Storm, I think I've done my bit for my country. The past 15 years, I've been a teacher of Civics and Economics, and also advanced Government classes. First and foremost, there are no such things as absolute rights. All rights guaranteed or implied by the Constitution, have limitations on them. That very much includes the 1st Amendment, which the Court has heard more cases about than any other aspect of federal jurisprudence. For example, we started out with the right to free speech, which has evolved over the years to freedom of expression. You can't say or do whatever you feel like doing or saying. If you lie about someone, that is slander. If you're dumb enough to lie about them in print, that is libel. If this "minister" and his flock, including his lawyer daughter, feel so strongly about this, go to Arlington on Memorial Day or Veteran's Day. See what happens. For God's sake man, have some respect
  4. A true Christian would understand that you must respect the deceased and the bereaved. These are some of the most basic lessons our Lord and Savior taught us. Our Lord taught us love and tolerance. He taught us that we are not allowed to judge others that we are only allowed to love our neighbors. We can hate the sin but never the person. There are much better ways to express your Christian Beliefs, dig into the Pastoral Epistles and you will find them. Make sure you take a long hard look at the Lords Prayer and live by the words that you are speaking. Ask yourself this. If God in truly in control, don’t you believe like the Christian Solider does, we are where we are supposed to be? Basically aren’t you barking up the wrong tree?
  5. I believe protests at military funerals are not demonstrations about free speech. They disrupt the peace, provide harrassment and imply defamation of a Soldier or Marine's character, and lead to simple alienation of affection for those who came to show respect and love to the loved one by refocusing their anger and grief away from the service and onto the protesters. Justice Ginsberg should charge them all with disruption of the peace and defamation of character.
  6. There's a time & a place for everything. But a funeral, military or not, is no place for a protest. There are morals involved.
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