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Westboro Baptist Church: Supreme Court to Decide Suit Filed by Father of Fallen Soldier

Westboro Baptist Church: Supreme Court to Decide Suit Filed by Father of Fallen Soldier
Westboro Baptist Church members protest in front of the Supreme Court. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster) AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

WASHINGTON (CBS/AP) Westboro Baptist Church has made a name for itself by desecrating one of the most solemn moments for soldiers' families, the funeral for the fallen warrior, by protesting with signs reading "Thank God for Dead Soldiers," among other things.

Now one father has taken his case all the way to the Supreme Court in an effort to silence the Rev. Fred Phelps and his flock.

Albert Snyder undertook the lawsuit after the church picketed the March 2006 funeral of his son, Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder, who was killed in Iraq. Snyder says that Phelps and his followers ruined his one chance to bury his son in peace, and he wants to stop the Westboro Baptist from doing it to any other families.

The church's lawyer, Phelps' daughter, Margie, says the church holds the protests to make their point that U.S. deaths in Afghanistan and Iraq are punishment for Americans' immorality, including tolerance of homosexuality and abortion, and therefore fall squarely under the protection of the First Amendment.

"No American should ever be required to apologize for following his or her conscience," Margie Phelps said.

Snyder won an $11 million verdict against the church for intentional infliction of emotional distress, among other claims. A judge reduced the award to $5 million before the federal appeals court in Richmond, Va., threw out the verdict altogether, citing the church's First Amendment rights.

The Supreme Court will today consider whether the Church has the right to protest soldiers' funerals.

Fundamentalist church members turned out in advance of the argument Wednesday morning, to march in front of the court with placards of the type they've been carrying to military funerals. One young boy held up a sign that reads, "God Hates You."

Forty-eight states, 42 U.S. senators and veterans groups have sided with Snyder, asking the court to shield funerals from the Phelpses' "psychological terrorism."