Fallen soldier's family hopes lawsuit cripples fringe church

The Examiner, Dallas/October 18, 2007

The family of a fallen soldier whose funeral was picketed by Westboro Baptist Church remains hopeful its lawsuit will financially cripple the fringe, gay-bashing group.

"We just want them to stop damaging other people," said Craig Trebilcock, a lawyer for the family of fallen Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder, whose March 2006 funeral in Westminster had been picketed by the church. "If these people would fold their tent tomorrow and stop victimizing innocent families, this case could probably be resolved."

Despite having two of five claims against the Topeka, Kan., church dismissed in a federal court this week, attorneys for the family of Snyder, a Westminster High graduate, say damages would be no less than if the judge had allowed all claims go forward.

Snyder was killed serving in Iraq last year and church members picketed with signs reading, "You're going to Hell" and "Pope in Hell."

They believe soldiers' deaths are God's revenge for America's tolerance of homosexuality.

"This case has very little to do with money," Trebilcock said. "It's to send a message to that this type of conduct is unacceptable in our society today, and people aren't going to put up with it."

Claims of intentional infliction of emotional distress, invasion of privacy and civil conspiracy are to go to a jury trial next week at U.S. District Court in Baltimore.

Westboro representatives could not be reached for comment.

The dismissed claims stemmed from messages written on the church's Web site that claimed Matthew's father, Albert, of York, Pa., raised him "for the devil, taught Matthew to defy his creator and commit adultery, and taught him to be an idolater."

U.S. District Judge Richard Bennett ruled Monday that a realistic person would not believe the messages, and that committing adultery was not defamatory.

"This has been a long haul for him," Sean Summers, attorney for the family, said of Albert Snyder. "Litigation is tough for a person, even if you haven't recently buried your child."

Bennett limited church members' ability to use the First Amendment as protection for their protest at the funeral, saying their messages could have been directed at the family and were not of public concern.

"Yesterday was a success in that the judge ruled they can't use the First Amendment as a defense," said another family attorney, Sean Summers. "If you read the headlines, you'd think, 'Oh my god, the case fell apart,' but in reality only one small portion fell apart."

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