Trial date set for defamation suit against anti-gay church

Monday, March 5, 2007

Editor’s note: Judge Richard Bennett on June 4 rejected a motion to dismiss the case. The motion, filed by Rebekah Phelps-Davis and Shirley Phelps-Roper, daughters of the Rev. Fred Phelps, had argued that the court would be forced to decide between different religious viewpoints.

BALTIMORE — A trial will be conducted in October in which the father of a
fallen Marine alleges protesters at his son’s funeral defamed the Marine and his

Last week, U.S. District Judge Richard Bennett set the jury trial for Oct. 22
in federal court in Baltimore. The trial is expected to last for two weeks.
Depositions will begin this month, the York Daily Record reported.

Albert Snyder of York, Pa., is suing the Rev. Fred Phelps and his Topeka,
Kan.-based Westboro Baptist Church after church members demonstrated at the
funeral of Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder of Westminster and posted pictures of the
protest on their Web site. Corporal Snyder was killed in March 2006.

Albert Snyder’s lawsuit, filed June 5, alleges church members violated the
family’s right to privacy and defamed the Marine and his family at the funeral
and on the church’s Web site. It seeks general damages, special damages and
punitive damages for the defendant’s alleged wrongful acts, as well as for
Phelps and his church to pay the costs of the lawsuit.

The church had asked the judge to dismiss the lawsuit, but Bennett rejected
that request on Oct. 30.

In earlier interviews, members of Phelps’ family who protested at the
Westminster funeral said they were exercising their First Amendment rights.
Several members from Phelps’ church protested at the service carrying signs that
read, “Thank God for Dead Soldiers.” The church has become notorious for
protesting at the funerals of service members killed in Iraq. Group members
believe that American soldiers are dying because of the nation’s tolerance of
gay people.

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