Supreme Court Appears Inclined To Rule Against Funeral Protesters

"latimes It seems likely the justices will set a limit to freedom of speech when ordinary citizens are targeted with especially personal and hurtful attacks, as was the father of a dead Marine. Despite free-speech concerns, Supreme Court justices sounded sympathetic Wednesday to a lawsuit filed by the father of a Marine killed in Iraq whose funeral was picketed by protesters with signs like, ""Thank God for IEDs."" The justices appeared inclined to set a limit to freedom of speech when ordinary citizens are targeted with especially personal and hurtful attacks. The 1st Amendment says the government may not restrict free speech, but it is less clear when it shields speakers from private lawsuits. The Phelps family from Topeka, Kan., has picketed at military funerals across the nation and proclaimed that God is punishing America and its troops because of its tolerance of homosexuality. In 2006, family members traveled to Maryland, where they held antiwar and anti-gay signs at the funeral of Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder, and they also put on their website a message that accused his father, Albert Snyder, of having raised his son ""to defy the creator"" and ""serve the devil."" A Maryland court awarded Snyder $5 million in damages, but the award was thrown out on free-speech grounds. Justices Anthony M. Kennedy and Stephen G. Breyer, usual defenders of the 1st Amendment, said they thought people could be sued for outrageous personal attacks. Kennedy said ""certain harassing conduct"" was not always protected as free speech. ""Torts and crimes are committed with words all the time,"" he said, referring to legal wrongs that result in lawsuits. ""The 1st Amendment doesn't stop state tort law in appropriate circumstances,"" Breyer added."