The father of a Marine killed in action in Iraq has been ordered to pay the legal costs of members of an anti-gay church whom he sued after they picketed his son's funeral, carrying placards bearing anti-homosexual epithets. The dad, Albert Snyder of Westminster, Md., called the ruling a "slap in the face."
"By the court making this decision, they're not only telling me that they're taking their side, but I have to pay them money to do this to more soldiers and their families," Snyder said, according to CNN
It all stems from a legal battle that started after a handful of demonstrators from the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan., picketed outside the Maryland funeral of Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder with signs expressing such sentiments as "God hates you" and "Thank God for dead soldiers." The vitriol apparently had nothing to do with Snyder as an individual; church members have demonstrated at other events with similar signs. Founded by Pastor Fred Phelps, the church believes God is punishing the United States for "the sin of homosexuality" by allowing wars and soldiers' deaths.
Albert Snyder, horrified by the disruption, filed a federal lawsuit claiming intentional infliction of emotional distress and civil conspiracy. He won at the first level and was awarded $10.9 million in compensatory and punitive damages. But the 4th District Court of Appeals reversed the ruling, saying Phelps and his people were protected by First Amendment free-speech rights. Then last week, the court ordered Snyder to pay more than $16,000 in legal fees accumulated by Westboro Baptist in defending itself. On his "O'Reilly Factor" cable show Tuesday night, Fox News host Bill O'Reilly said he would write a personal check to cover the fees charged to Snyder.
The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case in another test of how far the First Amendment can stretch in guaranteeing the right of free expression.