- The Washington Times - Monday, June 5, 2006


The father of a Marine whose funeral was picketed by anti-homosexual demonstrators from a fundamentalist Kansas church filed an invasion-of-privacy suit against the protesters yesterday in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt.

It is thought to be the first lawsuit brought by a service member’s family against Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan., whose members routinely demonstrate at military funerals across the country.

Albert Snyder of York, Pa., father of Lance Cpl. Matthew A. Snyder, seeks unspecified damages for the virulent messages held by protesters outside his son’s funeral.

Cpl. Snyder, 20, died March 3 after an accident in the Anbar province of Iraq. He was buried in Westminster, Md.

The church has inspired 31 state laws banning funeral protests, including a law in Maryland that took effect after Cpl. Snyder’s funeral.

After filing the suit, Mr. Snyder told reporters in Pennsylvania that he hoped a hefty judgment would make the church members unable to afford travel for more protests.

“I want it to stop,” he said of the Westboro protests. “I didn’t know there were people in the world who did that. I couldn’t believe it.”

At the funeral, Mr. Snyder said, “I went to find closure for the loss of my son. … I was confronted with hatred.”

Snyder attorney Sean Summers said the defamation lawsuit is a first against the church stemming from a military funeral protest.

“We think it’s a case we can win because anyone’s funeral is private,” Mr. Summers said yesterday after filing the lawsuit. “You don’t have a right to interrupt someone’s private funeral.”

The lawsuit seeks damages for invasion of privacy at the funeral. It also accuses the church of defamation for derogatory comments about Cpl. Snyder placed on the church’s Web site.

Mr. Summers said he has gotten calls from relatives of three servicemen after news of the Snyder lawsuit surfaced. He said more lawsuits are likely for the “outrageous” protests.

“We believe the jury will do the right thing at the end of the day and give him a large jury award,” Mr. Summers said.

Shirley Phelps-Roper, a church member who frequently acts as spokeswoman for the small congregation, said it was the first time Westboro has been sued by a service member’s family.

A counterlawsuit was planned for abrogation of speech rights, she said.

“What was it we did? Seven people standing in the back of the building?” she said.

Miss Phelps-Roper said seven persons picketed the funeral, fewer than the number of counterprotesters.

“We were exercising our First Amendment rights,” she said.

Mr. Snyder said most people disagree that the protest was protected speech.

“I’m amazed at the number of people who have called and said, ‘We’re behind you 100 percent.’ People want these people off the street,” he said.

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