The Westboro Baptist Church has had the decision to allow it to make anti-gay protests at military funerals upheld in the Supreme Court, with a majority of 8-1.
The church members should be allowed to picket funerals by relying on their First Amendment rights to free speech, the court found.
They ruled: “What Westboro said, in the whole context of how and where it chose to say it, is entitled to ‘special protection’ under the First Amendment, and that protection cannot be overcome by a jury finding that the picketing was outrageous.”
The case was brought originally by the parents of Matthew Snyder, a Marine who died in Iraq in 2006.
When his body was repatriated to the United States for burial, members of the Westboro Baptist Church protested outside the church where Snyder’s funeral was to be held.
Counter-demonstrations and a police presence forced the funeral route to be diverted.
The church, whose belief it is that God is punishing America for tolerating homosexuality by killing soldiers in conflict situations, published a poem on its website criticising Snyder’s parents.
Matthew Snyder’s father was originally awarded compensation of $11m. This was reduced to $5m, before the award was annulled altogether because of the church’s constitutional right to voice its conviction.
The tactics employed by the organisation were described by their detractors as “psychological terrorism”.
While numerous organisations have condemned the church’s messages, many have been forced to recommend that their rights are upheld for fear of creating a precedent at odds with the concepts of freedom of expression.
The church’s website was recently taken down by the group Anonymous.