Supreme Court to hear case in which anti-gay protesters disrupted a Maryland soldier’s funeral
WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Benjamin L. Cardin and Barbara A. Mikulski (both D-MD) today signed on to an amicus curiae brief to the Supreme Court filed by Majority Leader Harry Reid in support of Marine Lance Corporal Matthew A. Snyder’s family. Matthew, who lived in Finksburg, MD, was killed in Iraq in 2006, and his funeral was disrupted by members of a Kansas church who believe the death of American soldiers is God’s punishment for tolerance of homosexuality.
The case concerns a hate-filled protest at the funeral of Matthew Snyder by protesters from the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, KS, including the church’s pastor, Fred Phelps. The protesters picketed the service with signs that said “Semper fi fags” and “Thank God for dead soldiers.” Member of the church have protested at the funeral of other soldiers around the country and they created a web video about Matthew’s funeral memorializing their protest.
The Snyder family sued the protesters and a jury found that Matthew’s parents were deprived of a peaceful and solemn opportunity to bury their son. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit overturned the jury verdict, concluding that the First Amendment protected respondents’ speech and conduct from any state law tort liability. The Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case.
“There are limits on free speech protections and the protesters at Matthew Snyder’s funeral crossed that line,” said Senator Cardin, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. “Members of the Westboro Church wanted to be as disruptive and offensive as possible at the funeral of an American soldier in order to make a political statement. Mourners should have the right to privacy and families who are grieving should not be subjected to protesters who want to create a media circus.”
“The protest of U. S. Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder’s funeral was a despicable action by the protestors, and the continuation of these protests at the funerals of our country's fallen soldiers is unacceptable,” Senator Mikulski said. “As the U.S. Supreme Court considers this case, my heartfelt condolences go out to Lance Cpl. Snyder’s parents. Military families can count on me to fight to preserve the respect and dignity owed to those who give their lives to protect our country.”
In addition to Senators Cardin and Mikulski, a bipartisan group of 31 senators also signed the amicus curiae brief in support of the Snyder family. Congress recently enacted the Respect for America’s Fallen Heroes Act and the Respect for the Funerals of Fallen Heroes Act to protect private family funerals from disruptions.