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Derogatory Free Speech: Court Overturns Lawsuit Against Church

Posted by Audiegrl

Funeral ProtestEUR—A federal court has ruled that it’s acceptable for church members to picket outside the funeral of a gay soldier holding signs that read reading “God hates fags” and “Thank God for dead soldiers” because their message was protected under the First Amendment Right of free speech.

In doing so the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., reversed a lower court’s $5 million award against Westboro Baptist Church concluding that members didn’t violate the privacy of the family of fallen Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder when they picketed his 2006 funeral in Westminster.

According to the Baltimore Sun, the Westboro membership is made up largely of the members of a single extended family who say the deaths of U.S. service members are God’s way of showing he disapproves of America’s alleged tolerance of homosexuality.

More @ EUR

Mathews father, Albert Snyder talks with reporters Oct. 31 at the federal courthouse in Baltimore. (AP Photo/The (Baltimore) Sun, Glenn Fawcett)

Mathews father, Albert Snyder talks with reporters Oct. 31, 2007. (AP Photo/The (Baltimore) Sun, Glenn Fawcett)

Associated Press—A three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the signs contained “imaginative and hyperbolic rhetoric” protected by the First Amendment. Such messages are intended to spark debate and cannot be reasonably read as factual assertions about an individual, the court said.

A jury in Baltimore had awarded Albert Snyder damages for emotional distress and invasion of privacy. The 2006 funeral of Snyder’s son, Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder in Westminster, Md., was among many military funerals that have been picketed by members of the fundamentalist Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas.

Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder

Fallen Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder

Albert Snyder’s attorney, Sean E. Summers, said he and his client were disappointed.

“The most troubling fact is it leaves these grieving families helpless,” Summers said. “If you can’t use the civil process, you have no recourse.”

He said he will appeal the ruling to either the full appeals court or to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“We feel we owe that to Mr. Snyder and other families who have been harassed, humiliated and abused,” Summers said.

More @ Associated Press

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