The father of a Marine killed in Iraq and whose funeral was picketed by anti-gay protesters was ordered to pay the protesters’ appeal costs, his lawyers said Monday.
On Friday, Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ordered Snyder to pay $16,510 to Fred Phelps, leader of the Westboro Baptist Church, despite the fact that the Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case as to whether the protesters are entitled to free speech at the funeral. Phelps conducted protests at Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder’s funeral in 2006.
The two-page decision supplied by attorneys for Albert Snyder of York, Pa., offered no details on how the court came to its decision.
Attorneys also said Snyder is struggling to come up with fees associated with filing a brief with the U.S. Supreme Court.
The decision adds “insult to injury,” said Sean Summers, one of Snyder’s lawyers.
The high court agreed to consider whether the protesters’ message is protected by the First Amendment or limited by the competing privacy and religious rights of the mourners.
Phelps and his congregation regularly demonstrate at military funerals, carrying inflammatory signs to draw attention to their anti-gay message.
The religious group protest at the funerals of soldiers, regardless of the sexuality of the deceased military personnel, and use the events to bring publicity to their campaign.
The preacher and six relatives arrived at Snyder’s funeral carrying signs that read “America is doomed,” “Matt in hell” and “Semper Fi fags,” in reference to the Marine motto “Semper Fi.”
After the funeral was over, Phelps continued to deride and criticize Snyder on his website, prompting the dead Marine’s family to sue the preacher before a Maryland court.
Snyder’s father Albert claimed Phelps had intruded on a private event and intentionally inflicted emotional distress on the bereaved family and won an initial award of five million dollars.
But the award was overturned on appeal, where a court ruled that Westburo protesters were simply exercising their First Amendment right to free speech.