View Full Version : Snyder/Supreme Court

10-03-10, 12:04 AM


— March 3, 2006: Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder dies in the war in Iraq.

— March 10, 2006: Snyder’s funeral is conducted while Westboro Baptist Church members picket outside.

— Oct. 31, 2007: A U.S. District Court jury in Baltimore awarded $10.9 million to father of Snyder, later reduced to $5.1 million.

— Sept. 24, 2009: Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the jury’s decision, saying First Amendment protected church’s speech.

— March 8: The U.S. Supreme Court said it would hear the Snyder V. Phelps case.

— Wednesday: The case is to be argued before the Supreme Court.

Supreme Court to hear issues regarding WBC picket of soldier's funeral Wednesday
By Steve Fry
Created October 2, 2010 at 9:09pm
Updated October 2, 2010 at 10:48pm
On March 8, 2006, the body of Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew A. Snyder, who was killed five days earlier when his Humvee overturned in combat operations in Al Anbar Province in Iraq, arrived in the United States.
He was 20 years old when he died.
The same day, members of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka announced they would picket Snyder's funeral on March 10 in Westminster, Md., a city of 18,000 about 60 miles north of Washington, D.C.
Events were set in motion that have led to legal arguments Wednesday before the U.S. Supreme Court by attorneys representing Albert Snyder, the father of the dead Marine, and the church's legal team.
Each side claims their First Amendment Rights were violated.
Snyder claims the First Amendment rights to free exercise of religion and assembly, and the Westboro church claims the right to exercise its freedom of speech.
Each side says its First Amendment rights trump the other side.
The fundamentalist church protests funerals of soldiers, contending their deaths are God's punishment for America's tolerance of homosexuality. Bearing signs that included "Semper Fi Fags," "Thank God for Dead Soldiers," "America is Doomed" and "Don't Pray for the U.S.A.," Westboro Baptist Church pickets protested outside St. John's Catholic Church in Westminster during the funeral of the younger Snyder.
Albert Snyder looked at his daughters at one point and saw Westboro protesters' signs behind them, a Snyder court filing to the Supreme Court said.
The elder Snyder sued Westboro Baptist Church; Fred W. Phelps Sr., its pastor; and Shirley Phelps-Roper and Rebekah A. Phelps-Davis, adult members of the church and two of Fred Phelps' daughters. The Phelpses and four of the pastor's grandchildren picketed the funeral. Snyder alleged defamation, invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
A jury in a U.S. District courtroom in Baltimore, Md., found in favor of Albert Snyder, awarding him $10.9 million in compensatory and punitive damages. The district judge lowered the award to $5.1 million.
The Westboro church appealed the case, and the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the district court's decision, saying the conduct of the Phelpses was protected by the First Amendment. The appeals court said a series of cases gave immunity from tort to speakers of "rhetorical hyperbole."
Albert Snyder appealed the case to the U.S. Supreme Court, which announced March 8 it would hear it.
The Snyder case
Albert Snyder's First Amendment rights to free exercise of religion and peaceful assembly outweighs the church's First Amendment right to target hateful speech at the father during the funeral of his son, Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew A. Snyder, attorneys for Snyder contend.
The attorneys pointed to case law they say has allowed speech rights to be curtailed if "substantial privacy interests are being invaded in an essentially intolerable manner."
"The case for protecting an individual's right to exercise his religion and to peacefully assemble at a funeral service is even stronger," Snyder attorneys wrote in briefs to the Supreme Court. "Indeed, the founders chose to place these rights on equal footing with the right to free speech by listing all three protections in the First Amendment."
The federal court of appeals erred when it said it doesn't matter whether Snyder was a public person or private individual, Snyder attorneys said.
The Supreme Court "should not extend First Amendment protection to outrageous, intentionally harmful expressive conduct targeted at private individuals," the Snyder briefs said. "Mr. Snyder was simply a private citizen attempting to attend his son's funeral without disruption."
Snyder hadn't injected himself into public debate about homosexual rights, wasn't a public figure and wasn't a celebrity, the briefs said.
"The Phelpses' freedom of speech should have ended where it conflicted with Mr. Snyder's freedom to participate in his son's funeral, which was intended to be a solemn religious gathering," Snyder attorneys wrote in their briefs to the Supreme Court.
The Phelps case
The U.S. Supreme Court should find for the Westboro Baptist Church because church pickets exercised public speech on public issues, and the privacy of Albert Snyder wasn't intruded on when they picketed at his son's funeral, church briefs contend.
Supreme Court justices should uphold a federal appeals court decision reversing a district court verdict finding for Albert Snyder, church attorney Margie J. Phelps said in briefs to the Supreme Court.
The church didn't interfere or disrupt "the public funeral" of Matthew Snyder, church briefs said, and the church was "well within the bounds of the law" when it picketed the funeral and used speech that was "hyperbolic, figurative and hysterical."
The church pickets funerals "to use an available public platform when the living contemplate death, to deliver the message that there is a consequence for sin," the church briefs said.
Speech tied to the funeral was public in every sense of the word, the church briefs contend.
"It was about publicly-funded funerals of publicly-funded soldiers dying in an extremely public war because (in WBC's opinion) of very public policies of sin, including homosexuality, divorce, remarriage, and Roman Catholic priests molesting children," the church said.
Albert Snyder was a "limited purpose public figure," who spoke extensively with news reporters soon after his son's death, after his son's funeral and later when he convinced the country that the church is a "villain." The funeral became public when his father published the date, time and place of the funeral.
"The fact the speech was hyperbolic, figurative, and hysterical is why it should be protected. (It is) the essence of the kind of robust speech on critical public issues for which the First Amendment was written."
Steve Fry either can be reached at (785) 295-1206 or at steve.fry@cjonline.com.

And the Supremes will ????????????????????????????????