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US states urge Supreme Court to limit military funeral protests

Forty-eight states and the District of Columbia on Tuesday filed an amicus curiae brief [text] supporting the right to limit protests around military funerals in the case of Snyder v. Phelps [docket]. The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] granted certiorari [cert. petition, PDF; JURIST report] in the case to determine if the First Amendment [text] right to freedom of speech can be limited in specific situations. The states filed the brief on behalf of the petitioner urging the court to allow states to limit freedom of speech around funerals and in specific types of Internet postings that attack the deceased and their family members. The states contend they "have a compelling interest in protecting the sanctity and privacy of funerals, both to honor deceased citizens and to support and comfort grieving families." Maine and Virginia declined to sign the brief. Last week, US senators Harry Reid (D-NV) and Mitch McConnell (R-KY) [official websites] as well as 40 other senators filed a similar brief [text] in support of the petitioner. The court is expected to hear arguments in the case during the next term.

The suit was brought [JURIST report] by the family of Marine Lance Corporal Matthew Snyder after Reverend Fred Phelps and members of his Westboro Baptist Church [WARNING: readers may find material at this church website offensive; JURIST news archive] picketed his funeral. Phelps and members of his church have been traveling around the country picketing military funerals in recent years, claiming US soldiers have been killed because America tolerates homosexuals. A federal judge awarded the family [JURIST report] almost $11 million in damages, but the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit reversed, holding [opinion, PDF] that Phelps's speech was protected under the First Amendment.

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