The father of a U.S. Marine killed in action in Iraq has been ordered by
the Fourth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals to pay court costs of $16,510
to the leader of a Topeka, Kansas church group. The anti-gay group picketed
outside the Marine’s 2006 funeral, holding signs that read among
other things, “God hates you” and “You’re going
to hell” and “Thank God for dead soldiers.”
Unsurprisingly, the Marine’s family sued the church group for invasion
of privacy, intentional infliction of emotional distress and civil conspiracy.
A jury awarded the family $2.9 million in compensatory damages and $8
million in punitive damages, later reduced to $5 million.
The church group appealed to the Court of Appeals, saying that their First
Amendment rights had been violated. The court agreed and reversed the
Now, the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case on the legal issues
of laws designed to protect the “sanctity and dignity of memorial
and funeral services” and the privacy of family and friends of the
deceased. The court will determine how far states and private entities
such as churches and cemeteries may go to justify picket-free zones and
“floating buffers” at funerals to silence or restrict speech
and movements of demonstrators exercising First Amendment rights.
Sometimes the law gets in the way of common sense.