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Federal judge approves limited lawsuit against military funeral protesters

[JURIST] The US District Court for the District of Maryland [official website] ruled Tuesday that three of the five counts of a suit filed by the father of a fallen Marine against the renegade Westboro Baptist Church [WARNING: readers may find material at this church website offensive; BBC report] may proceed to trial. Albert Snyder sued Westboro [JURIST report] in 2006 after the church led a protest at the funeral of his son, Lance Cpl. Matthew A. Snyder [case website] in Westminster, Maryland. Judge Richard D. Bennett dismissed claims of invasion of privacy and defamation arising from comments posted about Snyder on the Westboro website, calling them protected speech. The remainder of the suit set to begin next Monday will consider Westboro's liability for intentional infliction of emotional distress and violation of the expectation of privacy at the funeral. The Baltimore Sun has more.

Westboro and its leader Rev. Fred Phelps have staged several protests at military funerals in recent years, saying US soldiers have been killed because America tolerates homosexuals. While a spokesman for Westboro said that they are "exercising [their] First Amendment rights," the lawyer for Albert Snyder said that there is no right to interrupt a private funeral. In 2006, President Bush signed into law [JURIST report] the Respect for America's Fallen Heroes Act [HR 5037 summary; PDF text], prohibiting any demonstration within 300 feet of the entrance of a national cemetery and within 150 feet of an entrance into the cemetery for one hour before and after a military funeral.

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