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tl;dr to the below article - SCOTUS decided today that, later this year, they will make a ruling on where free speech stands in regard to protests in close proximity to funerals or solemn ceremonies. It will help decide if family / friends of the funeral can sue protest organizers, like our lovely friends at the Westboro Baptist Church.
'Thank God for dead soldiers': Supreme Court to rule on free speech in case of soldier's funeral
March 8, 2010 | 9:22 am
The Supreme Court agreed Monday to decide on the outer limits of free-speech protection for public protests and to rule on whether a dead soldier’s family can sue fringe religious protesters who picketed near their son’s funeral with signs that said, "Thank God for dead soldiers."
A Maryland jury awarded $10 million in damages to Albert Snyder, whose son Matthew was killed in Iraq in March 2006. He had sued Fred Phelps, the founder of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan., who has traveled the country for 20 years leading controversial protests at funerals for American soldiers.
He claims that God hates America because of its tolerance of homosexuality. He and his small group of followers carried protest signs at the funeral in Westminster, Md., that said, “Fag troops,” “God hates the USA” and “God hates fags.”
But a lawyer for Phelps said his protests were not targeted at Lance Corp. Matthew Snyder, the soldier, but more generally at America and the U.S. military. The protesters were kept at a distance from the church and the burial service. Nonetheless, the jury awarded damages to the Snyder family on the grounds that the funeral protests invaded their privacy and intentionally inflicted emotional distress.
In September, however, the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals threw out the entire award on free-speech grounds. “Notwithstanding the distasteful and repugnant nature of the words being challenged in these proceedings, we are constrained to concluded that the defendants’ signs are constitutionally protected,” the appeals court said.
Snyder’s family appealed to the Supreme Court, saying the protests had “tarnished” their son’s funeral. “Matthew deserved better. A civilized society deserved better,” they said.
The court announced it had voted to hear the appeal in Snyder vs. Phelps and to rule on whether the right to free speech extended to the right to intrude on a solemn ceremony. The justices will hear arguments in the case in the fall.
-- David G. Savage, reporting from Washington
I agree with people who say it shouldn't be necessary for government to intervene or manage this, that, or the other. But the sad fact of the matter is that we, the American people, are so goddamn awful to each other that we end up needing the government to make these rules for us. It's pathetic that people would fight for the right to freedom of speech for the purpose of dishonoring the dead, even if their lawyers say it isn't targeting the individual specifically. What a piece of fucking work.