The father of a US soldier whose funeral was picketed by the controversial Westboro Baptist Church has been told he must pay their legal fees of $16,500 (£11,000).

The Kansas-based church, headed by Fred Phelps and his daughter Shirley Phelps-Roper, was sued for $5 million for invasion of privacy and emotional distress after it picketed the funeral of Marine lance corporal Matthew Snyder in Maryland.

The Phelps family are known for picketing the funerals of US soldiers with slogans such as ‘God hates fags’. They believe that soldiers’ deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan are caused by God because he hates homosexuality.

The dead man’s father, Albert Snyder, sued the family but a federal appeals court threw out the verdict in September, saying it violated the church’s right to free speech under the First Amendment.

Now he has been told he must pay the family’s legal fees.

The three judges ruled that the “imaginative and hyperbolic rhetoric” used was protected by the First Amendment. They added that the sentiment was intended to provoke debate and could not be reasonably seen as factual assertions about an individual.

Mr Snyder is now struggling to raise the funds to take the case to the US Supreme Court, where he hopes to reclaim the original $5 million award.

Yesterday, he told the Baltimore Sun that he had received 3,000 emails from people across the country who wanted to contribute to a fund to help him pay the $16,500 fee.

“It kind of restores your faith in mankind after dealing with this wacko church,” Mr Snyder said. “Win or lose, I’ll know that I did everything I could for Matt, and for all the soldiers and Marines who are still coming home dying.”