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Jerry Brown backs family of California Marine suing funeral protesters

June 1, 2010 | 12:15 pm


California  Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown has joined the case pending at the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of the family of a Marine from Twentynine Palms whose funeral was picketed by an anti-gay group.

The family of Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder sued members of the Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church for invasion of privacy and emotional distress after the group picketed Snyder's funeral in Westminster, Md. The group pickets military funerals out of a belief that soldiers' deaths are God's punishment for the U.S. promoting homosexuality.

Snyder, 20, was killed in Iraq on March 3, 2006.

A  trial court awarded $10.9 million to the family, reduced to $5 million by the judge.

But an appeals court, citing the 1st Amendment, threw out the verdict and ordered the Snyder family to pay legal costs of $16,500 to Fred Phelps, founder of the Westboro church. (On behalf of the Snyder family, those costs were reportedly paid by Fox News commentator Bill O'Reilly.)

The high court has announced it will hear the Snyder family’s appeal.

Brown joined other state attorneys general in signing a friend-of-the-court brief.

"Free speech is a cherished American right," Brown said in a statement today, "but disrupting a private funeral with vicious personal attacks on the grieving family goes too far."

Snyder  was assigned to Combat Logistics Battalion 7 at Twentynine Palms as a generator mechanic. 

-- Tony Perry in San Diego

Photo: Marine Cpl. Matthew Snyder. Credit: Marine Corps