Supreme Court to Hear Case of Soldier’s Father, Homophobic Church

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The case of a grieving father from York, Pennsylvania, who has been locked in a lengthy legal battle with a Baptist church, will be heard by the Supreme Court next fall.

Albert Snyder is suing the Westboro Baptist Church after members of its congregation picketed the funeral of Snyder’s son, Lance Corporal Matthew A. Snyder, who died in Iraq. The church believes that military deaths are punishment for the United States’ tolerance of homosexuality, and they have picketed outside of hundreds of funerals. The founder, Fred Phelps, presides over a congregation that includes mainly his children and grandchildren, and claims that the demonstrations outside of funerals are protected by his free-speech rights.

Snyder and his attorneys, however, say that the church members are disrupting private assemblies. They typically carry signs that say things like “God Hates You,” “Thank God for Dead Soldiers” and “Semper Fi Fag,” despite the fact that the fallen soldiers were not gay.

Snyder says that he felt the church targeted his family specifically, since one of Phelps’s daughters wrote a scathing blog post in which she said that Snyder and his ex-wife taught Matthew “to defy his creator.”

A Baltimore federal court jury initially ruled in Snyder’s favor, awarding him $10.9 million in damages in 2007. The judge later reduced that amount to $5 million, and the verdict was reversed by the 4th United States Circuit Court of Appeals.

The appeals court also ordered Snyder to pay the court costs—totaling $16,510—for the Westboro Baptist Church. The losing side in a civil court case is often ordered to cover these costs, but not usually when an individual sues a private entity or when the case is still active.

Last month, the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case and decide whether or not the Westboro Baptist Church is protected under the First Amendment.

The Westboro Baptist Church entered the national spotlight when they appeared outside the funeral of Matthew Shepard, a gay college student who was beaten to death in Wyoming, in 1998. They have also protested at the funeral of evangelist Jerry Falwell, which took place in 2007, and at the West Virginia coal mine where 29 workers earlier this month.

Snyder, 54, is supported by his ex-wife and two daughters, although he is the only plaintiff in the case. His lawyers, who are both military veterans themselves, have offered their services to Snyder on a pro-bono basis.

 

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