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Court to rule in military funeral protest case

WASHINGTON - The Supreme Court is entering an emotionally charged dispute between the grieving father of a Marine who died in Iraq and the anti-gay protesters who picket military funerals with inflammatory messages like "Thank God for dead soldiers."

The court agreed Monday to consider whether the protesters' message, no matter how provocative or upsetting, is protected by the First Amendment or limited by the competing privacy and religious rights of the mourners.

The justices will hear an appeal from a Marine's father to reinstate a $5-million verdict against the protesters after they picketed outside his son's funeral in Maryland four years ago.

Members of a Kansas-based church have picketed military funerals to spread their belief that U.S. deaths in Afghanistan and Iraq are punishment for the nation's tolerance of homosexuality.

The funeral-protest dispute was one of three cases the court said it would hear in the fall. The others involve whether parents can sue drugmakers when their children suffer serious side effects from vaccine, and NASA's background checks on contract employees.

The government says the decision in the NASA case could throw into question the background checks routinely done on all federal government workers.

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