Funeral Protests: Selected Federal Laws and Constitutional Issues [March 22, 2011] [open pdf - 184KB]
"The Westboro Baptist Church (WBC or Church) has been protesting military funerals for a number of years. The Church has gained national attention as a result. Its primary message is that God hates the United States and is punishing the country for its tolerance of homosexuality. The Church chooses to protest the funerals of fallen soldiers to make the point that in their opinion soldiers are dying as part of God's retribution for this country's sins. Though it began protesting military funerals, it has since branched out to funerals of fire fighters, police officers, and other public servants. [...] Recently, the Supreme Court decided a case involving whether the Church could be held liable for intentional infliction of emotional distress and intrusion upon seclusion by the family of a soldier, Matthew Snyder, whose funeral the Church protested. The Supreme Court held that, at least in the case of Matthew Snyder's funeral, the speech of the WBC was fully protected by the First Amendment. There are two lines of cases, those analyzing the constitutionality of buffer zones and those analyzing tort liability. They present distinct, but related and significant First Amendment questions. This report will discuss the Supreme Court's recent decision in Snyder vs. Phelps, which deals with the question of the WBC's tort liability. It will then analyze the constitutional issues facing federal laws that create funeral protest buffer zones. Finally, it will discuss some legislative options for amending the federal laws restricting funeral protests, including the recently introduced H.R. 961."
CRS Report for Congress, R41717