Snyder vs. Phelps
Respondents Fred W. Phelps, Shirley L. Phelps-Roper, and Rebekah A Phelps-Davis had protested at the military funeral of Petitioner Albert Snyder's son, Matthew Snyder. They held signs saying “God Hates the USA”, “God Hates Fags”, “Thank God for Dead Soldiers”, “Thank God for 9/11”, and other phrases. This case stirred a deep emotional reaction at the Supreme Court that nearly all of the states and the federal government have now passed laws to curb such tactics.
Since 1991, the congregation of Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, led by Pastor Fred Phelps and comprised mostly of his relatives, has set pickets at public events to protest what they believe to be America's pervasive immortality. They started targeting funerals and memorial services for the military dead in 2005. They believe that the wrath of God pours out on people if they do sin, and especially if they forget God's word, and make proud sin a way of life. The “proud sin” of which they complain about is homosexuality, including same-sex marriage, fornication, adultery, murder, greed and idolatry. They decided to protest at Matthew Snyder's funeral on March 10, 2006 because they thought it was a fit occasion for their picketing since Matthew's death had drawn considerable media coverage. They were aroused by the fact that Matthew's parents were divorced, that the family was Catholic, and that Matthew was a soldier who had died to “pay for his country's sins”.
Snyder sued the Phelpses for intentional infliction of emotional distress, invasion of privacy by intrusion upon seclusion, and conspiracy. The jury found in favor Snyder, awarding him $2.9 million in compensatory damages and $8 million in punitive damages. The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the jury award, holding that the speech of the Phelpses was rhetorical hyperbole and thus protected under the First Amendment, regardless of whether Snyder's son was a public figure. It was protected because it involved...
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