Westboro readies for high court

TOPEKA —Members of a Kansas church sued for protesting outside a Marine's funeral are gearing up to present their case to the U.S. Supreme Court in October.

The high court is scheduled to hear arguments Oct. 6 in the case of Westboro Baptist Church, which claims its protests outside a 2006 funeral of a Marine killed in Iraq were free speech protected by the First Amendment.

The Topeka-based church's members picket funerals of service members, contending the deaths are God's punishment for America's tolerance of homosexuality.

Albert Snyder of York, Pa., sued Westboro, accusing it of inflicting emotional distress and invading his privacy when pickets protested outside the funeral of his son, Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder, in Westminster, Md.

The court will consider whether Westboro's message is protected by the First Amendment or limited by privacy and religious rights of mourners.

In 2007, a jury found against Westboro and awarded Snyder nearly $11 million as compensation for emotional distress and invasion of privacy. That award was later reduced and then overturned by a court of appeals.

The Supreme Court agreed in March to take the case.

Margie Phelps, daughter of Westboro founder Fred Phelps, will have 30 minutes to argue before the court that the protest is protected speech. Attorney Sean Summers will have 30 minutes to argue Snyder's side.

Church spokeswoman Shirley Phelps-Roper said about two dozen members of the church would drive from Topeka to Washington and would picket along the way. They will also be picketing outside the Supreme Court while the arguments are being presented, she told the Topeka Capital-Journal.

She said the church has picketed the Supreme Court twice before.

Fred Phelps is not making the trip to Washington, she said.