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Supreme Court Says First Amendment Protects Westboro Church’s Protests

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Shirley Phelps-Roper of the Westboro Baptist Church, a Kansas church known for its vehement anti-gay positions and for protesting at US soldiers' funeral, stage a protest across the street from Northwestern High School in Hyattsville, Maryland, outside Washington. The church was demonstrating against what it claims is a 'pervert-run' school and said teachers across the country have 'broken the moral compass of this generation.' (credit: NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)

Shirley Phelps-Roper of the Westboro Baptist Church, a Kansas church known for its vehement anti-gay positions and for protesting at US soldiers’ funeral, stage a protest across the street from Northwestern High School in Hyattsville, Maryland, outside Washington. The church was demonstrating against what it claims is a ‘pervert-run’ school and said teachers across the country have ‘broken the moral compass of this generation.’ (credit: NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)

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Jon Keller is WBZ-TV News' Political Analyst, and his "Keller A...
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WASHINGTON (AP) — Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito says the commitment to free speech doesn’t mean the nation has to tolerate what he calls a “vicious verbal assault.”

But Alito was the only justice to dissent, as the high court today said the First Amendment protects the rights of fundamentalist church members who stage anti-gay protests outside military funerals.

The 8-1 ruling was a win for the Westboro Baptist Church of Kansas, which claims that military deaths are God’s punishment for the nation’s tolerance of gays.

Jon Keller talks with soldiers’ families about the Supreme Court’s decision that the Westboro Church’s protests of soldiers’ funerals are protected.

The decision upholds an appeals court ruling that threw out a $5 million judgment to the father of a dead Marine. He sued church members after they picketed his son’s funeral.

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that even “hurtful speech” on public issues must be protected, so that debate isn’t suppressed.

The Marine’s family had the support of 48 states, 42 U.S. senators and veterans groups, who said the church protests amounted to “psychological terrorism.”

But a daughter of the church’s minister, Margie Phelps — who’s also the lawyer who argued the case — says the court would have had to “shred the First Amendment” to rule against the church.

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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