Westboro Baptist Church has staged protests at the funerals of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan The US Supreme Court has ruled that a controversial anti-gay church has the right to picket military funerals by the free speech provision in the US Constitution. The court ruled 8-1 in favour of the Westboro Baptist Church, which was sued by the father of a dead US Marine.
The court upheld a ruling throwing out a $5m (£3m) judgment to the father.
Chief Justice John Roberts said the Constitution could not be thrown out because "picketing was outrageous".
'Inflicting great pain' "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," Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in opinion for the court.
Church members, led by the Reverend Fred Phelps, have picketed outside numerous military funerals to draw attention to their view that US military deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan are punishment for the immorality of Americans, including tolerance of homosexuality and abortion.
"Speech is powerful. It can stir people to action, move them to tears of both joy and sorrow, and - as it did here - inflict great pain," the justices said on Wednesday.
Justice Samuel Alito was the only dissenting judge.
The Supreme Court compounded the injury by throwing out the judgement, Mr Alito said in
"In order to have a society in which public issues can be openly and vigorously debated, it is not necessary to allow the brutalization of innocent victims like petitioner. I therefore respectfully dissent," he wrote.
Following the ruling on Wednesday, Margie Phelps, Mr Phelps's daughter and the lawyer representing the church, told reporters that the case "put a megaphone to the mouth of this little church".
"We read the law. We follow the law. The only way for a different ruling is to shred the First Amendment," she added.
Snyder funeral Lance Cpl Matthew Snyder was killed in a humvee accident in Iraq in 2006 and his body was returned to the US state of Maryland for burial, which members of the Westboro Baptist Church picketed.
The protesters marched with signs outside the soldier's funeral that read "Thank God for Dead Soldiers", "You're Going to Hell" and "God Hates the USA/Thank God for 9/11", which forced the funeral procession to alter its route.
Soon after, Albert Snyder, Matthew's father, came across a poem on Westboro Baptist Church's website attacking his son's upbringing.
Mr Snyder then filed a lawsuit in March 2006 accusing the church of intentionally inflicting emotional distress and won $11m at trial in 2007, which was later reduced by a judge to $5m.
He has argued in the past that the case was not about free speech but rather about how the church, which is based in Topeka, in the state of Kansas, harassed him.
But a federal appeals court in Virginia threw out the judgement, saying the Constitution shielded the church members from liability.