Anti-gay church asks federal judge to stay judgment against it

The Baltimore Sun

The Kansas-based anti-gay church that was smacked with a $10.9 million jury award against its members has asked a federal judge in Baltimore to review the judgment.

The father of a Marine killed in Iraq successfully sued Westboro Baptist Church and three of its leaders for invading his family's privacy when church members waved anti-gay signs at his son's funeral in Westminster.

The verdict late last month in U.S. District Court in Baltimore was the first against Westboro Baptist Church, a small but vocal Christian group based in Topeka that has protested military funerals with placards bearing shock-value messages such as "Thank God for dead soldiers."

Arguing that the First Amendment protects their right to free speech, members picket across the country, contending that every untimely death is punishment for America's tolerance of homosexuality and of gays in the military.

The post-trial motion filed late last week asks Judge Richard D. Bennett to stay any imposition of the jury award pending appeal. On behalf of the church, as well as its leader, Fred W. Phelps Sr., and his daughters, Shirley L. Phelps-Roper and Rebekah A. Phelps-Davis, the motion also asks the judge to throw out the jury award as a matter of law. If not, they ask the judge to consider lowering the multimillion-dollar judgment.

"The verdict of October 31, 2007, and related judgment of November 5, 2007, is the product of passion, prejudice and bias, based specifically and exclusively upon disagreement with defendants' religion," Phelps' daughters wrote in their court filings.

According to the electronic court docket, lawyers for Albert Snyder, the father of the slain Marine, have not entered a response, and no hearing on the issues has been scheduled.

In a separate filing, the church is also asking the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene in the Maryland lawsuit and a Nebraska criminal case to protect the fundamentalist group's right to protest at military funerals, according to the Associated Press. According to the article, several legal experts discounted the move because both cases have not been fully adjudicated in the lower courts.

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