1st Amendment protects military funeral protesters


WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court today ruled that the First Amendment protects fundamentalist church members who mount anti-gay protests outside military funerals, despite the pain they cause grieving families.

The court voted 8-1 in favor of the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan. The decision upheld an appeals court ruling that threw out a $5 million judgment to the father of a dead Marine who sued church members after they picketed his son's funeral.

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the opinion for the court. Justice Samuel Alito dissented.

Roberts said free speech rights in the First Amendment shield the funeral protesters, noting that they obeyed police directions and were 1,000 feet from the church.

"Speech is powerful. It can stir people to action, move them to tears of both joy and sorrow, and — as it did here — inflict great pain. On the facts before us, we cannot react to that pain by punishing the speaker," Roberts said. "As a nation we have chosen a different course — to protect even hurtful speech on public issues to ensure that we do not stifle public debate."

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