Church Ordered to Pay Millions for Protesting Military Funerals
By: Carly O'Keefe
ANNA, Ill. - The family of fallen soldier Sgt. Brian Romines calls a federal court decision a "small victory" in a tragic situation.
The Kansas-based church known for protesting at soldiers' funerals has been ordered to pay nearly $11 million in damages to the family of Lance Corporal Matthew Snyder after members of the Westboro Baptist Church protested outside his funeral in York, Pennsylvania.
The federal jury decided there is a line when it comes to free speech, giving $6 million in punitive damages, $2.9 million in compensatory damages, and $2 million for emotional distress. The judge in the case said the award is far more than the church has.
The church is known for its demonstrations at military funerals, and for holding the belief that the soldiers die because of America's "tolerance of homosexuality".
Members of the Westboro Baptist Church made appearances at several Heartland soldiers' funerals, including Sgt. Brian Romines' in the summer of 2005. Romines' mother, Melinda Astin, was pleased to learn this decision could keep other military families from suffering even more due to the protests as they grieve their loved one.
"Obviously we're elated. Brandon Phelps and Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn worked really hard to get the 'Let Them Rest in Peace' Act on the books, but that still gave them the right to be there, just at a distance. If this gets them off the streets, that's great. It's a small victory in a tragic and terrible situation," said Astin.
Lawyers for the church say they will appeal the verdict.