CORRECTED: Kansas church liable in Marine funeral protest

Wed Oct 31, 2007 5:32pm EDT

Corrects throughout and adds paragraph 5 to make clear Marine was not gay

By Jon Hurdle

BALTIMORE (Reuters) - A jury on Wednesday ordered an anti-gay Kansas church to pay $2.9 million in compensatory damages to relatives of a U.S. Marine after church members cheered his death at his funeral.

The jury in federal court determined that the Westboro Baptist Church based in Topeka, and three of its principals, had invaded the privacy of the dead man's family and inflicted emotional distress when they protested at his funeral last year.

The soldier's death was God's punishment on America for tolerating homosexuality, the church's members said.

Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder died in combat in Iraq in March 2006.

Snyder's father testified that his son was not gay, but the church targeted the military as a symbol of America's tolerance of gays.

The Westboro Church was sued by the father, Albert Snyder of York, Pennsylvania. The case was the first civil suit against the church, which has demonstrated at some 300 military funerals in the past two years.

The church, which is unaffiliated to any major denomination, is headed by Rev. Fred Phelps, who has been waging a one-man war against homosexuality for years. Most members of the church belong to his extended family.

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