Anti-gay church revels in publicity from Md. trial

? Shirley Phelps-Roper told jurors that she was an angel assigned to speak the truth to earth dwellers, that God hates their evil.

On the witness stand in a U.S. District Courtroom in downtown Baltimore, she explained last week that’s why she picketed the funeral of Matthew Snyder, a 20-year-old Marine from Westminster, Md., who was killed in Iraq in March 2006.

After 33,000 protests over the last 17 years, the Snyder case is thought to be the first individual lawsuit brought against the Phelps family of Topeka, Kan., and their Westboro Baptist Church. The family is seeking unspecified monetary damages in the case for invasion of privacy and intent to inflect emotional distress.

Closing arguments are expected today in the case, which will test the limits of free speech.

Phelps-Roper testified the family pickets military funerals because “we are supposed to be timely and topical.” Noting that Fred Phelps Sr. and his offspring are used to being mocked and scorned, she explained Thursday that the same thing happened to Noah, who preached of a forthcoming flood for 120 years.

“The pattern is always the same,” she said. Asked whether she had any regrets about her actions outside the St. John Catholic Church, she replied: “If I was sorry, I would not have done it.” She said God had killed Snyder so his servants could preach how the young Marine had gone to fight for “the United States of Sodom, a filthy country,” which has institutionalized sodomy and represents all things evil and wicked.

Albert Snyder told jurors last week that he regarded many of the signs at his son’s funerals as personal attacks and that seeing them made him sick to his stomach, according to The Associated Press. He referred to the protesters as “a bunch of clowns” and said his family should have had the right to bury Matthew with dignity.

It is a busy and rewarding time for the notorious Phelps family, which is reveling in the spotlight of the trial. On Saturday alone, members the Kansas family demonstrated at the funerals of three soldiers in Ottawa, Kan., Lone Pine, Calif., and Belchertown, Mass. They also protested that day at the funeral of a Maryland state trooper. Tuesday, they plan to protest at a funeral of a slain staff sergeant in Plano, Texas.

As Phelps-Roper was testifying Thursday, one of her 12 siblings was continuing the family business outside the gate of the U.S. Naval Academy in nearby Annapolis.

When Jonathan Phelps was asked how an unfavorable jury verdict would affect the family’s activities, he said, “Let me think about that. It takes me about a nanosecond. Zilcho.

“Let me put it to you this way: How much money you think it takes to pay for an ad that says ‘God hates fags’ in the Baltimore Sun?” he asked. “I’ve never bought any advertising, but it takes big bucks from what I’ve heard.”

But the free news coverage of the case spreads their word that America’s doomed.

“Thank God for dead soldiers,” he said, referring to one of the family’s favorite signs. “I mean, I can’t get to as many locations that one of those stories is going to cover for me. So it’s a beautiful preaching opportunity. Wonderful.”

That particular sign came up when Snyder testified that he thought about it daily. “I see that sign when I lay in bed.”

Maj. Terry Callis, a military chaplain who provides grief counseling, testified that Albert Snyder was traumatized by the death of his son and that the trauma was exacerbated by the protest. He said Albert Snyder saw the coverage of the protest on television and that “the events seemed to overshadow the funeral,” making it hard for him to complete the grieving process.

Fred Phelps also testified and was questioned by the judge about the graphic nature of some of the signs, which could be seen by children. He said it was irrelevant.

The defense attorney noted that the protest was 1,000 feet away from the church because Maryland, like many states, has tried to deal with the Phelpses with legal restrictions. Judge Richard Bennett told the jury that limits to free speech exist and that some actions can be deemed so offensive and outrageous that they do not qualify for protection.