MICHELE NORRIS, Host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.
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NPR's Nina Totenberg reports. And we should warn you, this story contains language that listeners may find offensive.
NINA TOTENBERG: Phelps and other church members have traveled the country for years picketing at hundreds of military funerals to communicate their belief that God hates the United States for its tolerance of homosexuality, particularly in the military. The picketers did not contend that Corporal Snyder was gay, rather, as Pastor Phelps put it...
FRED PHELPS: When the whole country is given over to sodomy and to sodomite enablers, this country needs this preaching. And what's the purpose of it, you say? Because the lord God told us to do it.
TOTENBERG: Albert Snyder, the father of the dead soldier, did not see the signs until later when he viewed TV coverage. But he says the picketers turned his son's funeral into a circus.
ALBERT SNYDER: This was a funeral. I shouldn't have to look away from anything at my own child's funeral.
TOTENBERG: He sued Pastor Phelps and his church for intentional infliction of emotional distress.
SNYDER: These people targeted me and my family. I want to know how you would feel if somebody stood 30 feet away from the main vehicle entrance of a church when you're trying to bury your mother with a sign that says, thank God for dead sluts. You tell me that shouldn't be illegal. Is fag any worse than slut? You tell me that somebody has the right to do that.
TOTENBERG: Lawyer Gene Schaerr, who filed a brief in the case for the American Legion, said he was heartened by the fact that the court specifically mentioned that 43 states have enacted laws that put a buffer zone of 100 feet or more around funeral sites. That would not have affected the protest in this case, since protesters were 1,000 feet away. Nonetheless, say, Schaerr...
GENE SCHAERR: It I think sends a clear signal to the lower courts that they should not interpret anything in this opinion as casting any doubt on any of those statutes.
TOTENBERG: University of Chicago law professor, Geoffrey Stone, notes today's case is in the tradition of protecting speech that often enrages.
GEOFFREY STONE: This case is a classic example of it. The real surprise is Justice Alito.
TOTENBERG: Nina Totenberg, NPR News, Washington.
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