Church’s protests at military funerals a free-speech test for Supreme Court

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TOPEKA, KAN. – A filmmaker several years ago tracked Shirley Phelps-Roper and her family members as they went about praising God for killing U.S. soldiers and picketing their funerals – their way of putting the nation on notice about the Almighty’s wrath.

He called the documentary “The Most Hated Family in America,” and Phelps-Roper had only one real regret.

“If he had just called it, ‘The Most Hated Family in the World,'” she said. In the last hours of the last days, she explained, Jesus said his chosen will be “hated by all men.”

Phelps-Roper, along with her father, the Rev. Fred W. Phelps, and other family members who make up Westboro Baptist Church, may yet get their wish.

The family’s inflammatory picketing – “Thank God for dead soldiers” is a favorite sign – has prompted more than 40 state legislatures and Congress to pass laws. Next week, the Supreme Court takes up the battle over how the Phelpses spread their message: that the nation’s tolerance of homosexuality has drawn God’s condemnation.

It creates an only-in-America quandary: whether the freedom of speech is so powerfully woven in the nation’s fabric that it protects one family’s right to vile and hurtful protest at the very moment of another family's most profound grief.

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