Press Release

Gillibrand Joins Amicus Brief In Support Of Rights Of Military Families

May 28, 2010

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand today joined many of her Senate colleagues on an amicus brief filed today in the U.S. Supreme Court in support of Marine Lance Corporal Matthew A. Snyder’s family in the case of Snyder v. Phelps (No. 09-751).  

The case concerns an ugly protest at the funeral of Marine Lance Corporal Matthew A. Snyder, who was killed in Iraq in 2006 in the line of duty.  After Matthew was killed, members of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas, including the church’s pastor Fred W. Phelps and his daughters, learned of the time and place of Matthew’s funeral and planned a protest there, as they have done at other funerals of fallen soldiers around the country. 

A jury found that Matthew’s parents were deprived of a peaceful and solemn opportunity to bury their son.  While the Snyder family won in a lower court, this decision was overturned at the appellate level. 

Senator Gillibrand believes strongly that America owes the men and women of the Armed Forces and their families the right to a solemn memorial when they sacrifice their lives to protect America. The Senators’ amicus brief argues that the law should continue to protect, as it long has, the rights of all private persons—including the families of fallen soldiers—to mourn their loved ones at a peaceful and solemn funeral.  It will make three arguments in support of the Snyder family:

  1. Private funerals have long been accorded special protection by American law;
  2. State and federal statutes, including the Respect for America’s Fallen Heroes Act, demonstrate the strong governmental interest in protecting private family funerals from disruption; and
  3. The state’s interest in protecting an individual’s privacy at a peaceful private funeral outweighs the First Amendment interest in protecting the hateful speech and conduct at issue in this case.