Baltimore — The father of a Marine killed in Iraq took the stand Wednesday in his invasion of privacy suit against a fundamentalist church that pickets soldiers' funerals, saying protesters carrying signs at his son's burial made him sick to his stomach.
Albert Snyder is suing the Westboro Baptist church, whose members have picketed the funerals of military personnel killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, claiming the deaths are punishment for the country's tolerance of homosexuality. The York, Pa., resident is seeking unspecified monetary damages in the case for invasion of privacy and intent to inflict emotional distress as a result of the Topeka, Kan., church's protest at the funeral for his son, Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder, in March 2006.
The church's protests have inspired several state laws and a federal law about funeral protests, but the Maryland suit is believed to be the first filed by the family of a fallen serviceman.
Asked Wednesday about a sign that read "Thank God for dead soldiers," Snyder said he thinks about it daily. "I see that sign when I lay in bed," he said.
U.S. District Judge Richard Bennett instructed jurors at the start of testimony Tuesday that the First Amendment protection of free speech has limits, including vulgar, offensive and shocking statements. Bennett said the jurors must decide "whether the defendant's actions would be highly offensive to a reasonable person, whether they were extreme and outrageous, and whether these actions were so offensive and shocking as to not be entitled to First Amendment protection."
Church members said they are motivated by the fear of God and their need to warn America about its moral decay, rather than a desire to hurt anyone.