The father of a felled U.S. marine has won a multi-million-dollar lawsuit against a fringe Baptist group that pickets funerals of soldiers.
In early November, a federal jury awarded Albert Snyder close to $11 million in damages from the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan. Church members had picketed Snyder’s son’s funeral in Westminster, Md., with signage reading “God Is Your Enemy,” “God Hates You” and “You’re Going To Hell.”
The rabidly anti-gay group has gained notoriety over many years for protesting at the funerals of AIDS victims, often with signs reading, “God Hates Fags.” The church, which is comprised mainly of the Rev. Fred Phelps’ relatives, expanded its picketing to the funerals of soldiers killed in combat, saying that God was punishing America for its alleged acceptance of homosexuality.
Snyder, whose 20-year-old son Lance Cpl. Matthew A. Snyder was killed shortly after being deployed to Iraq, told The New York Times that he hopes to shut down Phelps’ operation.
“If I can take whatever they have and stop them, good,” he said. “I was not motivated by money. I want to shut this church down, if you can call it a church. I call it a cult or a hate group.”
Some First Amendment advocates expressed concern over the effect on free speech rights.
“You have a very unpopular group engaging in very unpopular speech,” First Amendment Center lawyer David Hudson told USA Today. “When you have that combination, that can lead to bad law.”