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Last week’s U.S. Supreme Court filing of a friend-of-the-court brief by 22 news media organizations in support of the First Amendment rights of the Westboro Baptist Church has outraged the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the U.S.

“As despicable as their message of hatred is, at least the church has a vested interest in this fight,” said VFW National Commander Thomas J. Tradewell Sr., a combat-wounded Vietnam veteran from Sussex, Wis. “The media only filed their brief to protect themselves against potential libel suits.”

The case is Albert Snyder v. Fred W. Phelps Sr. (et al), who leads the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan., a nonaffiliated church that for years has taunted grieving mourners at military funerals nationwide, calling their deaths a by-product of a nation that tolerates homosexuality.

On March 10, 2006, in Westminster, Md., more than a half dozen Westboro members showed up at the funeral of 20-year-old Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder carrying signs that read “Semper Fi Fags,” “Thank God for Dead Soldiers” and “Thank God for IEDs.”

His father, Albert Snyder, of York, Pa., sued the church, and in 2007 a federal jury in Baltimore awarded him $11 million in compensatory and punitive damages, an amount the trial court later halved. The church appealed, and in September 2009, the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., voided the lower court ruling and ordered Snyder to repay the church thousands of dollars in court costs, an outrageous judgment that the VFW quickly raised money to pay.

In a brief filed earlier with the Supreme Court, which is scheduled to hear oral arguments in October, Snyder’s lawyers argue that the church’s right to free speech does not trump the family’s right to mourn in private. The VFW agrees, and filed its own friend-of-the-court brief to support him, as did 42 members of the U.S. Senate and 48 states and the District of Columbia.

The news media brief, filed by 22 organizations that include the Associated Press, New York Times and Hearst, says a tort ruling in favor of Snyder “threatens to expand dramatically the risk of liability for news media coverage and commentary.”

“This issue is between a grieving father who lost his son in Iraq and members of a self-proclaimed church who want to use First Amendment free speech protections as a sword and shield at the same time,” said the VFW’s Tradewell.

“This issue is not about freedom of the press or libel laws, regardless of how the media wants to twist the meaning of their amicus curiae brief,” he said. “The media is a business with an obligation to conduct proper due diligence in the gathering and reporting of information to the public. The Westboro Baptist Church and its message of hatred is a sickness. Let’s not confuse the two.”

From the VFW website at vfw.org

Way to go VFW!!!

Published in Stars & Stripes by Jeff Schogol July 16, 2010

ARLINGTON, Va. — Twenty-two media organizations have sided with a radical church against the father of a fallen Marine who is trying to sue it for picketing his son’s funeral.

The media organizations filed a friend-of-the-court brief on Wednesday with the Supreme Court in favor of the Westboro Baptist Church, which protests near servicemembers’ funerals because it believes that troops’ deaths and other national tragedies are divine revenge for America’s tolerance of gays and lesbians.

The father of Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder, who died in Iraq in 2006, sued the church for picketing near his son’s funeral with signs that said “God hates you,” “You’re in hell” and “Semper Fi fags.” They also distributed a flier with Snyder’s picture on it that read “Burial of an Ass.”

Snyder’s father, Al, won at trial, but he lost an appeal and was ordered to pay more than $16,000 in court costs. The case will be heard by the Supreme Court in the fall.

While not defending the Westboro Baptist Church’s actions, the 22 media organizations argued that the church is protected by the First Amendment. They also contend that the case could have a chilling effect on news gathering if Al Snyder prevails.

In the brief, the media groups argue that speech cannot be deemed too offensive too be protected by the First Amendment.

“Listeners’ emotional reactions to speech, however, cannot serve as a justification for censorship,” the brief said. “This Court has made clear that citizens ‘must tolerate insulting, and even outrageous, speech in order to provide “adequate breathing space” to the freedoms protected by the First Amendment.’?”

The media groups also argue that the Supreme Court ruled there can be no standard to determine which speech is too “outrageous” to be protected in the case of the Rev. Jerry Falwell against Hustler Magazine, which ran a parody advertisement about Falwell’s mother.

But the crux of the media organizations’ argument seems to be that if the Supreme Court rules in favor of Snyder’s father, it will open the door allowing people to sue news organizations for coverage and commentary that they don’t like.

“The outcome sought by the Petitioner would subject a wide variety of speech to the heckler’s veto, where any private individual can claim to have been targeted with offensive and outrageous speech,” the brief said.

But someone who wanted to file such a lawsuit against the media would have to prove the media intentionally harmed him or her, and that would be very difficult, if not impossible, said Sean E. Summers, attorney for Snyder’s father.

Not surprisingly, the media organizations’ argument drew criticism from veterans groups.

AMVETS believes the First Amendment’s religious rights protection give mourners the right to hold funerals in peace, said group spokesman Ryan Gallucci.

“Where’s the protection for the Snyder family’s rights?” Gallucci said in an e-mail. “This isn’t a censorship issue and we’re surprised to see media agencies come out in support” of the Rev. Fred Phelps and his family.

Joe Davis, a spokesman for Veterans of Foreign Wars, scoffed at the idea that ruling in favor of Snyder could open the floodgates for libel suits against the media.

“I have a job that requires me to be correct; why shouldn’t the press be held to that same standard?” Davis said.

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Can you believe this? This is absolutely the most un-American thing I have heard of in a LONG time.

And that’s my view.

KANSAS CITY, Mo., February 12, 2010 —Due to overwhelming response from the veteran community following last year’s live stream from the 110th VFW National Convention, VFW will stream live from this year’s National Legislative Conference, March 6-10, only on www.vfw.org

Streaming will begin with the Voice of Democracy Parade of Winners at 6:00 p.m. (EST) on March 7th.

We’ll pick it back up with the Conference’s Opening Session, set to begin at 8:00 a.m. the next morning, featuring guest speakers General George W. Casey, Jr., Secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, and Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Eric Shinseki.

A delayed stream of VFW Commander-in-Chief, Thomas Tradewell’s testimony on Capitol Hill will also air the afternoon of Tuesday, March 9.

In addition to streaming the segments live, all events will also be available on demand.

For up to the minute information, video clips and pictures from the VFW National Legislative Conference join us on Facebook!