HILLARY PETROZZIELLO TTN FILE PHOTO
Last April, the Westboro Baptist Church said its members – Fred Phelps’ clan – were coming to protest Temple’s production of “Rent” and the showing of “The Laramie Project.” As hundreds of student and community protesters lined 13th Street and Montgomery Avenue waiting, it became clear the WBC had bailed.
But when it comes to the Supreme Court, there’s no such thing as bowing out.
Yesterday, the Supreme Court held its first hearing for Snyder v. Phelps. Though this isn’t Phelps’ first brush with the law, it is a particularly important case. In 2006, the WBC protested the funeral of Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder, who died while serving in Iraq. Snyder’s death, the Phelpses said, was the United States’ punishment for tolerating homosexuality.
The Snyder family announced the funeral in its local paper, which is how the Phelpses knew about the service. The Phelpses are using this as their defense, claiming the Snyder family made themselves public figures by putting the funeral announcement in the paper.
Though the WBC has protested approximately 200 funerals, Snyder’s father, Alfred Snyder, took the Phelpses to court. A federal jury in Baltimore sided with Snyder, awarding the family $10 million. In an appeal to the 4th Circuit in Richmond, the ruling was reversed, which is why it has landed in the hands of the Supreme Court.
According to the Washington Post article reporting the case’s day in court yesterday, the decision of Snyder v. Phelps “could offer outright protection to protesters; or the justices could deem that funerals deserve special exception and that protesters cannot rely on the First Amendment to justify harassment at a funeral.”