Supreme Court Sides With Westboro Church On Funeral Protests

March 2, 2011

Bill Chappell

The First Amendment protects the right of the Westboro Baptist Church to hold anti-gay protests outside military funerals, the Supreme Court ruled Tuesday. The 8-1 ruling backs an appeals court decision to throw out a $5 million victory for Albert Snyder, who sued the fundamentalist church after its members picketed his son's funeral.

Asked why anyone would bring signs reading "God Hates Fags" and "You're Going to Hell" to a funeral for U.S. military personnel, church leader Rev. Fred Phelps said last year, "When the whole country is given over to sodomy and sodomite enablers ... the country needs this preaching."

The Supreme Court ruled that the right to free speech protects Phelps and his church members to express their opinions during military and other high-profile funerals.

The Kansas-based church's practice of picketing funerals has caused controversy and anger. In the aftermath of the deadly Tucson shootings that left Rep. Gabrielle Giffords severely injured, the church raised the ire of many when it planned to take its signs to the funeral for nine-year-old Christina Green.

The threat of such a protest led Arizona to quickly enact legislation to ban protests within 300 feet of a funeral. The law also made it illegal for protesters to be present within an hour of the funeral's start or finish.

The church eventually decided not to proceed with that protest, after an Arizona radio station promised to give the church airtime in exchange for a promise not to picket Green's funeral. Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.