For years, the Westboro Baptist Church has been picketing troops’ funerals because they believe that God is exacting divine revenge for the United States’ tolerance of gays and lesbians.
On Wednesday, the Supreme Court will hear arguments whether the church is protected under the First Amendment or whether it can be sued for inflicting emotional distress.
Al Snyder’s son, Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder, died in Iraq in 2006. He sued the church after it picketed his son’s funeral with signs that read “God hates you” and “Semper Fi fags.”
Snyder’s attorney, Sean Summers, is arguing that the church targeted the Snyder family for harassment.
“Free speech is not about targeting a captive audience at a funeral,” Summers said. “The only other two options are either not attend your child’s funeral, which in a civilized society, none of us should be forced in that situation or that choice; or to turn your head at the funeral, and that’s really impractical and we shouldn’t ask that of any person.”
But Jeffrey Rosen, a law professor at George Washington University, said it is a stretch to argue mourners at a funeral are a captive audience.
“The kind of areas that have traditionally been considered captive audiences are those where people are either in obviously private spaces, like the home, or else semi-private spaces where they can’t leave – trains, for example, where loud music is playing, or something like that,” Rosen said.
That kind of talk enrages Al Snyder, who railed against legal pundits who believe the First Amendment protects the Westboro Baptist Church.
“It literally sickens me to my stomach to hear these people say that this is what your son died for,” Snyder said. “No, my son didn’t die for targeted harassment on anybody.
“Tell those pundits to give me a call when their mother dies. I have a few signs I’ll hold 30 feet away from the main vehicle entrance of her church.”