Supreme Court Hears Snyder v. Phelps Case

Marine's Family Seeks Redress for Intentional Harm Caused by Extremist Behavior at a Private Military Funeral

Oct 06, 2010, 11:33 ET from Barley Snyder LLC

WASHINGTON, Oct. 6 /PRNewswire/ -- The United States Supreme Court today heard oral arguments in Snyder v. Phelps (09-751), a case concerning the unlawful disruption of a Marine's funeral and the right of a grieving family to seek redress for the intentional harm caused to them by such extreme and outrageous conduct.

On March 3, 2006, U.S. Marine Lance Corporal Matthew A. Snyder, of Finksburg, Md. was killed in Iraq. His family held a traditional burial service at St. John's Catholic Church in Westminster, Md. on March 10, 2006. Members of the Westboro Baptist Church (WBC), of Topeka, Kan., staged a protest during the funeral right outside the entrance of the church, which disrupted the private ceremony, required the deployment of the local police S.W.A.T. team and forced the funeral procession to be re-routed.

The members of WBC believe "God Hates America" because, they believe, the United States supports homosexuality. Therefore, they "thank God for dead soldiers" because they believe God is punishing the U.S. because of its tolerance of homosexuals.

"All I wanted was to bury my son with dignity and respect. The Westboro Baptist Church's conduct goes beyond all possible bounds of basic human decency, and should be regarded as utterly intolerable in a civilized nation," said Lance Cpl. Snyder's father, Albert Snyder. "I am a private figure, and I have the right to grieve without being subjected to such extreme harassment."

In October 2007, a federal jury found that the Church intentionally inflicted emotional distress on Mr. Snyder. The jury awarded Mr. Snyder $10.9 million in damages, which the court eventually lowered to $5 million. In September 2009, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals of Richmond, Va., reversed the verdict. The Supreme Court granted Cert. on March 8, 2010.

"Private citizens must have legal remedies under state tort law to seek damages if harassed at a private funeral or religious ceremony," said Sean E. Summers Esq., partner in the law firm of Barley Snyder LLC, who represents the Snyder family pro bono. "The Constitution should not allow a person to intentionally harm another, especially while burying a child."

Forty-eight state attorneys general and the District of Columbia joined Kansas Attorney General Steve Six' amicus brief in support of Mr. Snyder. In addition, 56 U.S. Senators united with Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in an amicus brief supporting Mr. Snyder. The brief was prepared by Walter Dellinger, former Solicitor General under President Bill Clinton.

The Supreme Court is expected to issue a decision in the case decision in 2011. For additional information please visit: or the Supreme Court.

SOURCE Barley Snyder LLC