Baltimore — A federal jury has ruled that a fundamentalist Kansas church was wrong to picket the funeral of a fallen Marine in Maryland.
The jury awarded $2.9 million in compensatory damages and $8 million in punitive damages to the family of Lance Corporal Matthew Snyder, who was killed in Iraq. It found that the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka invaded the family’s privacy and intentionally inflicted emotional distress when it demonstrated at Snyder’s funeral last year. The protesters carried signs with messages like “God hates fags” and “Thank God for dead soldiers.”
The jury will now consider punitive damages. But the judge has already pointed out that the compensatory damage award is far more money than the defendants have.
Members of the small church routinely picket military funerals. They argue that U.S. troops are dying as punishment for America’s tolerance of homosexuality.
In an opening statement Tuesday, Shirley Phelps-Roper compared church members to biblical prophets who sought to save doomed nations that had strayed from God.
Phelps-Roper is a member of the Westboro Baptist Church. The church was sued by Albert Snyder, of York, Pa., over a protest at the funeral of his son in Maryland.
After the Westboro Baptist Church protested at his son’s funeral, Snyder filed an invasion-of-privacy lawsuit against the church. He was also seeking damages for intentional infliction of emotional distress.
Snyder’s doctor says he has health problems and trouble sleeping.
A number of states have passed laws limiting funeral protests, and Congress has banned such protests at federal cemeteries.