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Dad of a fallen Marine perseveres against protests at military funerals

Albert Snyder says he won't pay court-ordered legal fees of the fundamentalist Westboro Baptist Church, which organizes protests at military funerals. He sued the group after it picketed at his son's funeral in 2006, and the US Supreme Court has agreed to hear his appeal.

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Brad Nelson, a supporter of Sgt. 1st Class Johnny Walls (L), holds a U.S. flag to block a sign held by a Westboro Baptist Church member protesting the funeral in Port Orchard, Washington on November 30, 2007. The Westboro Baptists Church from Topeka, gained notoriety by demonstrating at military funerals across the country, claiming God is killing troops in Iraq and Afghanistan to punish the United States for tolerating homosexuality.

Jim Bryant/UPI/File

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A father of a Marine killed in Iraq says he won't pay the legal fees of a protest group who picketed at his son's funeral in 2006 – at least not until he hears from the US Supreme Court on the matter.

Albert Snyder, whose son, Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder, was killed in Iraq, learned Friday that a federal appeals court is requiring him to pay more than $16,000 in legal fees to the Westboro Baptist Church, a Christian fundamentalist group that demonstrates during military funerals to gain attention for its antigovernment, antihomosexual message. The group rallied at Matthew Snyder’s funeral in March 2006 in Westminster, Md., chanting antigay slogans and carrying signs such as “Thank God for dead soldiers,” says Albert Snyder’s attorney, Sean Summers.

The group was protesting about 30 feet from the church’s main entrance, and Mr. Snyder had to enter through a separate entrance, Mr. Summers says.

Snyder subsequently sued the Westboro group for emotional distress and won a $5 million judgment. But on appeal, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed, finding in favor of protecting the protesters' free-speech rights. About three weeks ago, the Supreme Court agreed to take the case and is expected to hear it in the fall. (Last year, the high court had declined to take up the issue.) Meanwhile, the circuit court has ordered Snyder, a salesman, to pay the church’s court expenses.

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