16 October 2007 17.02
A Baltimore judge has restricted the scope of a lawsuit brought by the father of a Marine whose funeral was targeted by Fred Phelps’ anti-gay group.
It is the first individual lawsuit brought against Fred Phelps’ Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) for its protests at military funeral ceremonies
The law suit will go to trial next week in Baltimore.
Albert Snyder claims that protesters from the Kansas-based anti-gay group destroyed his only chance to bury in peace the son he lost in Iraq. He filed a complaint in June 2006.
The picketers, who had carried signs with messages such as “Thank God for dead soldiers,” have said that they were trying to oppose gays in the military.
The Baltimore Sun reported that after the two sides presented legal arguments in a Baltimore courtroom on Monday, a federal judge offered a split decision, ruling that a more limited can proceed to trial next week.
At times incensed over what he described as long-winded theological speeches given by a member of the Westboro Baptist Church, U.S. District Judge Richard Bennett nonetheless dismissed two of the five counts against the church and three of its leaders, saying in part that their statements, no matter how incendiary, amounted to protected speech.
Comments posted on the church’s Web site that Snyder raised his son “for the devil” and taught his son how to “defy his Creator, to divorce and to commit adultery” did not defame the father because it was “not the kind of information that a reasonable person is going to assume was presented to be considered fact,” Bennett said.
In granting part of the defendants' motion for summary judgment, Bennett found church members did not defame Lance Cpl. Matthew A. Snyder or his family by implying that he was gay or raised by adulterers because his parents divorced.
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