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Court to hear case of funeral pickets

March 8, 2010 at 2:03 PM   |   Comments

WASHINGTON, March 8 (UPI) -- The U.S. Supreme Court Monday said it would hear argument in the case of a Kansas preacher and his anti-homosexual crusaders who picket soldiers' funerals.

A lower court has thrown out a $5 million damages verdict against the preacher and others.

Four years ago, Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew A. Snyder was killed on duty in Iraq. His family arranged for a private service at a Catholic church in Westminster, Md., followed by burial, SCOTUSblog.com reported.

But the Rev. Fred W. Phelps, an anti-gay crusader who has gained notoriety protesting military burials, showed up with members of his family. Phelps is pastor of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan.

The protesters do not say the fallen soldiers are homosexuals. Phelps contends God hates America because it tolerates homosexuality and his campaign spreads its message online at godhatesfags.com.

The protesters at the Snyder funeral carried signs saying, among other things, "Matt in hell" and "Semper fi fags," the report said.

Albert Snyder, the fallen Marine's father, sued Phelps, his daughters and the Westboro church under Maryland law, winning a $5 million verdict for intrusion into a secluded event, intentional infliction of emotional distress and civil conspiracy, SCOTUSblog reported.

A federal appeals court in Richmond, Va., overturned the verdict, saying the First Amendment protected the protesters' speech, which dealt with a matter of political concern -- homosexuality.

In asking the justices for review, Snyder's lawyers pointed out the Supreme Court's 1988 decision in Hustler Magazine vs. Falwell, which said high court jurisprudence protecting even hateful speech does not apply "to private individuals versus private individuals," SCOTUSblog said.

The case should be heard in late spring or early next fall.

© 2010 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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