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  • Funeral Sanctity Showdown in the Supreme Court

    A case is pending in the U.S. Supreme Court that will put to the test whether the First Amendment to the Constitution protects offensive speech just as rigorously as it protects the speech we value. On March 3, 2006, Lance Corporal Matthew Snyder was killed in the line of duty in Iraq. At his funeral, the Westboro Baptist Church, a Kansas-based church known for its “fire and brimstone” fundamentalist religious faith, protested with signs bearing phrases such as “God Hates the USA,” “God hates you,” “Semper fi fags,” and “Thank God for dead soldiers.” Albert Snyder, the deceased soldier’s father, filed suit against the Westboro Baptist Church and Fred Phelps, founder of the church, alleging five state tort claims—defamation, intrusion upon seclusion, publicity given to private life, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and civil conspiracy. A jury returned a verdict in favor of Snyder, awarding him $2.9 million in compensatory damages and a total of $8 million in punitive damages.