The U.S. Supreme Court heard a case Wednesday that examines whether the Westboro Baptist Church has the right to picket funerals of American soldiers.
The court examined if members of Westboro Baptist have the right to protest funerals while using vulgar language and displays. Albert Snyder, the father of slain American soldier Matthew Snyder, brought the lawsuit against Fred Phelps Sr., the leader of Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas. Phelps claims his protests are protected under the First Amendment, but Snyder is asking for the court to reinstate a $5 million dollar verdict for damages in response to the church’s decision to picket his son’s funeral.
Westboro protests several locations every month. According to the group’s website, they have staged 44,269 protests or pickets to date with others planned.
The protesters, some of whom spent the night in front of the Supreme Court building, displayed signs reading, “Thank God for dead soldiers” and “God hates your feelings.” Counter-protesters carried signs that read, “Love conquers all,” and “Fred Phelps wishes he was hot like me.”
Although some passersby stopped to mock the Westboro group, there was no violence during the demonstration. One older woman walked by and shouted, “Love thy neighbor as thyself,” while cars honked and others hurled insults toward Phelps’ family members.
Orlando Bethel, a 43-year-old self-proclaimed “street preacher” from Loxley, Alabama, and his family showed up to support Westboro and what they see as the fundamental need for the protection of First Amendment rights.
“It’s clearly a First Amendment issue,” said Bethel. “It would be impossible for any court, even the Supreme Court, to rule against their activity as unlawful or unconstitutional because it would spitting in the face of the Constitution.”
The Supreme Court will decide whether the First Amendment protects Wesboro’s protests. Jacob Phelps, a member of the church, said that the court would be censoring his speech by siding with Snyder.
“All this comes down to is the words,” said Jacob Phelps, the son of Westboro lead counsel, Margie J. Phelps. “He [Snyder] just didn’t like the words.”
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