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Noted First
Amendment attorney hired by Fred Phelps

Noted First
Amendment attorney hired by Fred Phelps

The antigay reverend Fred Phelps, whose congregation has been protesting at military funerals, has hired a Maryland attorney who specializes in First Amendment cases to defend him against a defamation lawsuit by the father of a slain marine.

Albert Snyder, of York, Pa., sued Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church after church members demonstrated at the funeral of his son, Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder, and posted pictures of the protest on their Web site. Lance Corporal Snyder was killed in March. Church members maintain that military casualties in Iraq are God's punishment for America's tolerance of homosexuality.

Snyder's lawsuit, filed June 5, alleges that church members violated the family's right to privacy and defamed the marine and his family at the funeral and on the church's Web site. Phelps has denied any wrongdoing.

The church has hired Jonathan Katz, a Silver Spring lawyer, to represent it, The Baltimore Examiner reported Tuesday. "Defamation lawsuits are totally incompatible with the First Amendment," Katz told the paper. "I represent people from the far left and far right and everyone in between."

The case had been stalled for several weeks while Snyder's attorneys sought without success to serve notice of the suit on the church and its members. Sean Summers, one of the lawyers representing Snyder, said he is glad the church has hired an attorney so the case can move forward. (AP)

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