The Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that a Kansas church known for its insensitive protests outside military funerals has the constitutional right to plan such demonstrations.
Justices ruled 8 -1 in favor of Westboro Baptist Church. The high court said the church is protected by the First Amendment right to free speech -- even if that speech includes picketing with provacative messages about the military, morality, and condemning the Catholic church.
"The court -- based on the facts -- can't react to the family's pain," Chief Justice John Roberts said. "instead, it must protect even hurtful speech on public issues to ensure that we do not stifle public debate."
The case was originally filed by the father of Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder after his son was killed in the line of duty in Iraq.
Westboro Church members traveled from Topeka to protest Snyder's funeral in Maryland, holding up signs with messages like "Thank God for dead soldiers," "You're going to hell," and slurs against homosexuals.
The father filed suit claiming emotional distress and a jury awarded him $5 million in compensation. That ruling was appealed, eventually sending the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.
"The court -- based on the facts -- can't react to the family's pain," Chief Justice John Roberts said. "Instead, it must protect even hurtful speech on public issues to ensure that we do not stifle public debate."
Justice Samuel Alito was the only one to dissent.
"The court now holds that the First Amendment protected the church's right to brutalize Mr. Snyder. I cannot agree," he said.
Maryland now has a law imposing restrictions on funeral picketing, along with 43 other states.