Soldier's dad to sue church

Wichita Eagle/June 3, 2006
By Alan Bjerga

Baltimore - The father of a Maryland Marine who died in Iraq plans to sue the Kansas group that picketed his son's funeral, his lawyer said Friday.

Albert Snyder of York, Pa., the father of Lance Cpl. Matthew A. Snyder of Westminster, will sue the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka for unspecified actual and punitive damages, according to attorney Sean Summers of York. The civil suit will claim defamation, invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Summers said he would file the suit Monday in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt.

At least 11 states have passed laws shielding families from the protesters. In all, 30 states have or are considering such legislation.

On Memorial Day, President Bush signed a federal law prohibiting such protests at national cemeteries.

Within a week, the church announced its first protest at Arlington National Cemetery.

On Tuesday, members of the church led by Fred Phelps will protest the funeral of Marine Lance Cpl. Kevin A. Lucas of Greensboro, N.C.

Lucas, 20, died May 26 while conducting combat operations against enemy forces in Al Anbar province inIraq.

The new federal lawbars protests within 300 feet of the entrance of a national cemetery and within 150 feet of a road into the cemetery. The restriction applies an hour before until an hour after a funeral.

Those violating the act would face up to a $100,000 fine and up to a year in prison.

Phelps' daughter Margie Phelps said picketers planned to follow the federal law.

"We don't do civil disobedience," she said.

The earlier protest in Maryland that is prompting the lawsuit robbed Albert Snyder of the peace and closure that he sought to deal with his son's death, according to his attorney.

Summers said it never occurred to the elder Snyder that protesters would be at his son's funeral.

"He was hoping for closure, and Mr. Snyder didn't get it," the lawyer said.

About seven members of the group picketed outside St. John Catholic Church during the Marine's funeral, carrying signs that read "Thank God for dead soldiers," "You're going to hell," and anti-gay epithets. Group members believe that American soldiers are dying because of the nation's tolerance of gay people.

Matthew Snyder, 20, died March 3 after an accident in the Al Anbar province of Iraq. The accident did not involve combat, the Defense Department said.

He was assigned to Combat Service Support Group-1, 1st Marine Logistics Group, I Marine Expeditionary Force, in Twentynine Palms, Calif.

Last month, Maryland Gov. Robert Ehrlich signed into law a bill that bans funeral protests that use speech likely to incite a fight.

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