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Supreme Court Says Anti-Gay Protests of Military Funerals Can Continue

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Photo by Grazi Badke via the LAist Featured Photos pool on Flickr
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A leader of the highly controversial Westboro Baptist Church, which is known for picketing funerals of deceased military personnel with anti-gay and anti-military messages, will retain his right to carry out these kinds of demonstrations, per a decision handed down today by the U.S. Supreme Court. In the 8-1 decision, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the following, according to the LA Times:

"Westboro believes that America is morally flawed; many Americans might feel the same about Westboro...[Its funeral picketing] is certainly hurtful and its contribution to public discourse may be negligible....On the facts before us, we cannot react to that pain by punishing the speaker. "

The case made its way to the Supreme Court because of a lawsuit brought against Fred Phelps of Westboro Church, who has led the charge on many funeral demonstrations, by Albert Snyder, whose son died in Iraq. Snyder's son's funeral was picketed by Phelps, who, along with his family, held signs saying "Thank God for Dead Soldiers" and "God Hates Fags."

Snyder was awarded $11 million in damages by a lower court, according to the Times, but that decision was struck down by the Supreme Court on the basis of the 1st Amendment. Justice Roberts wrote that:

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"As a nation we have chosen a different course — to protect even hurtful speech on public issues to ensure that we do not stifle public debate. That choice requires that we shield Westboro from tort liability for its picketing in this case."