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Privacy And Free Speech Relationship To Come Before Supreme Court

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By Kavitha Cardoza

The Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case this fall that involves the rights of a controversial church group that picketed the funeral of a Marine from Maryland's Carroll County who was killed in Iraq, Lance Corporal Matthew Snyder. The case questions the relationship between privacy and free speech.

Protesters from the Westboro Baptist Church held signs during the funeral that read "Thank God For dead soldiers" and "God hates you." They believe God is killing soldiers to punish the United States for accepting homosexuality. Attorney Sean Summers says this devastated the Snyder family.

"You only have one opportunity to bury your son. They essentially tarnished that forever," says Summers.

The family sued for the intentional infliction of emotional distress and invasion of privacy but most recently the 4th circuit U.S. Court of Appeals sided with the Church, citing free speech rights.

Jamie Raskin teaches constitutional law at American University.

"The question basically is whether arriving at a funeral and engaging in hate speech is something that is protected or not," says Raskin.

Raskin says church members were complying with all local laws during the protest so the Supreme Court may uphold the lower court's decision. On the other hand he says this was a private family funeral and the Supreme court has previously ruled private individuals may enjoy greater protections against what he calls "wounding" speech.

"It goes to the question of whether private individuals at a funeral who are subjected to one of these hate protests can sue for intentional infliction of emotional distress," he says.

17 states have signed onto an amicus or "friend of the court" brief in support of the family, including Kansas where the church is based. But Maryland, where the Snyder family lives and Virginia, have not. The brief needs to be filed by Friday.

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