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Supreme Court to hear military funeral protest case

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  1. Libel and Privacy
The Supreme Court will decide whether a federal appeals court erred when it threw out a $5 million verdict for…

The Supreme Court will decide whether a federal appeals court erred when it threw out a $5 million verdict for a father who sued religious protesters for picketing his son’s funeral after he died in Iraq, the Associated Press reported.

The court said today it would review a decision made by the U.S. Court of Appeals in Richmond (4th Cir.) to reverse a ruling that the protesters engaged in intrusion upon seclusion and intentional infliction of emotional distress when they protested outside the funeral of Marine Matthew Snyder at a Catholic church in Westminster, Md. 

The Fourth Circuit reversed the judgments because the court below did not find that the protestor’s speech was merely an "opinion" and therefore protected by the First Amendment. The court wrote that state tort liability cannot attach to an opinion, and the protesters’ tone and the content of their speech “negate[d] any impression that it was the source of any actual facts."

"A distasteful protest sign regarding hotly debated matters of public concern, such as homosexuality or religion, is not the medium through which a reasonable reader would expect a speaker to communicate objectively verifiable facts,” the court wrote.

Fred Phelps Sr. and other members of a Kansas church that espouses anti-gay views carried picket signs that included messages such as “Fag Troops” and “God Hates You" to protest gay soldiers in the military and a variety of other issues.