Ohio AG Takes A Stand Against Funeral Protesters
(COLUMBUS, Ohio) — Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray has announced that he has sponsored an amicus brief filed in the United States Supreme Court seeking to protect grieving families from harassment during funerals. Attorney General Cordray is one of 48 attorneys general who signed the brief.
In the case of Snyder v. Phelps, the family of Lance Cpl. Matthew A. Snyder filed a lawsuit in Maryland against protesters who picketed the fallen Marine's funeral. Fred Phelps, founder of the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan., and members of the Phelps family have picketed at military funerals across the country to publicize their belief that God hates homosexuality and punishes America for its tolerance by claiming the lives of service members in Afghanistan and Iraq. Signs carried by the Phelps family at these protests have included such messages as "God Hates You," "Thank God for Dead Soldiers," "Thank God for 9/11," and "God Hates the USA."
Although the Snyder family won a judgment and compensation at the trial court, an appeals court overturned the verdict. The Supreme Court is now considering whether protection of funerals through state statutes or tort law is permissible under the Constitution's First Amendment.
"We stand behind our men and women in uniform and their loved ones. We honor those who serve and sacrifice, and when they are lost defending our freedom, their families absolutely deserve peace and privacy during their burials," said Cordray.
In a prior Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals case, the Ohio Attorney General's office successfully defended a challenge by the Phelps family to an Ohio statute, Revised Code Section 3767.30, which prohibits picketing within three hundred feet of funerals within an hour before or after the burial service.
Ohio Governor Ted Strickland offered support for the filing of the amicus brief. "Attorney General Cordray's action supports Ohio values and demonstrates that we stand with the families and loved ones of our service men and women," said Strickland. "They have earned the right to honor the fallen in peace and security. Just as we honor the expression of free speech, we must also honor the sacredness of funerals and the sacrifices of our soldiers and their families.
As the amicus brief signed by Attorney General Cordray and the 47 other attorneys general states:
"It is this solemn right of privacy in one of the most sacred traditions of human civilization that the Phelpses have attacked, denigrated, and violated. The Snyder family had but one opportunity to honor and mourn their fallen son, one opportunity to pay their final respects, one opportunity to bury him with solemn dignity in a time-honored tradition that far predates the founding of our country and the adoption of our Constitution. The Snyder family should have been guaranteed their time of mourning in peace, with privacy, tranquility, and dignity. Traditions as old as humanity, much older than our Constitution, demand such privacy; the First Amendment does not abrogate all history and cultural norms to protect the Phelpses' unprecedented tactics."
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