Snyder v. Phelps - First Amendment - Military Funeral Protesters

     On March 3, 2006, Lance Corporal Matthew Snyder was killed in Iraq in the line of duty.  His funeral was held in his hometown of Westminster, Maryland, at St. John's Catholic Church. 
 
     The Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas consists of about 60 members, of whom about 50 are members of one family related to the pastor, Fred W. Phelps, Sr.  Members of the congregation demonstrate near military funerals to gather attention for their crusade against homosexuality and the Roman Catholic Church.  After notifying the media, they showed up outside the church where Matthew Snyder's funeral was held carrying the following signs:
 
"America is Doomed," "God Hates the USA/Thank God for 9/11," "Pope in Hell," "Fag Troops," "Semper Fi Fags," "Thank God for Dead Soldiers," "Don’t Pray for the USA," "Thank God for IEDs," "Priests Rape Boys," and "God Hates Fags."
 
     The trial court found:
 
It was undisputed at trial that Defendants complied with local ordinances and police directions with respect to being a certain distance from the church. Furthermore, it was established at trial that Snyder did not actually see the signs until he saw a television program later that day with footage of the Phelps family at his son’s funeral.
 
     Following the funeral Shirley L. Phelps-Roper posted an "Epic" to the internet entitled "The Burden of Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder," stating that Matthew's parents:
 
"taught Matthew to defy his creator," "raised him for the devil," and "taught him that God was a liar."
 

     The Snyder family sued the church for invasion of privacy, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and civil conpiracy.  The jury awarded the Snyders a verdict of over $10 million, which the trial court reduced to $5 million.  The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the verdict, finding that the statements by the Phelps family were constitutionally protected under the First Amendment.  The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the Fourth Circuit.

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