Posted: Oct 6, 2010 8:13 PM by Andy Koen
Updated: Oct 7, 2010 2:35 PM
A local Army widow will be watching closely as members of the Westboro Baptist Church plead their case before the Supreme Court this week. Members of the church came to Colorado Springs to protest at the funeral of Christina Misner's husband, Sgt. Gordon Misner in March of 2006.
"It's just really rude and disrespectful," Misner said. "A funeral is not the time and place to voice your opinion. You can voice it any can voice it anywhere you want, just not at someone's funeral."
She says on the day of the funeral, she and her children were sheltered from view of protestors thanks to the hundreds of members of motorcycle group the Patriot Guard. She only learned of the protest after being contacted by a producer from Good Morning America for an interview.
Colorado lawmakers created a legal shelter in an attempt to guard family members from just such demonstrations. The state established a 1,000 foot "bubble zone" restricting protests.
State Senator Brandon Shaffer (D) Longmont helped to enact the bill. He says the family's right to privacy should come before an outside group's right to free speech.
"They have a right to have funeral without being disturbed that's a first amendment right just like the ability to say hateful things is a first amendment right."
In Snyder v Phelps, justices are weighing the right of free speech with the right to privacy. The church was sued by the family of fallen Marine LCpl Matthew Snyder and ordered to pay damages in the case. The suit was overturned on appeal.
Professor Alan Chen of the University of Denver filed a friend of the court brief on behalf of the church because he says he believes the church's free speech should be protected.
"What is the chilling effect on other speakers, other protestors who might want to say provocative things in the futures if they can be sought for a $6 million jury verdict for intentionally inflicting emotional distress?" he asked.
The church's attorney Maggie Phelps remained defiant following court proceedings Wednesday.
"When you have a private funeral we will not be there. When you have a public funeral, and you broadcast to the nation that that dead soldier is a hero and that God is blessing America, we will be there and tell you God is cursing America," Phelps said.
Snyders father Albert insisted that the funeral was private and that the church intentionally harmed his family.
"There is a civilized way to express an opinion in America, but it does not involve intentionally inflicting emotional distress on others, intentionally harming a private citizen at a private funeral," Snyder said.
Legal or not, Misner says the church members should be more respectful.
"No matter who's funeral it is, it not the time to start an argument."