A Baltimore jury awarded the family of a slain Marine almost $3 million in damages from the Westboro Baptist Church for its homophobic protest at his funeral. The Reverend Fred Phelps lost his case before the federal court in every aspect, and now must pay a potentially crippling judgment — and this may just be the beginning (via Michelle Malkin):
Albert Snyder of York, Pa., the father of a Westminster Marine who was killed in Iraq, today won his case in a Baltimore federal court against members of Topeka, Kan.-based Westboro Baptist Church who protested at his son’s funeral last year.
The jury of five women and four men awarded Snyder $2.9 million in compensatory damages. The amount of punitive damages to be awarded has not yet been decided. The jury deliberated for about two hours yesterday and much of today.
Snyder was the first in the nation to attempt to hold members of Westboro Baptist Church legally liable for their shock protests at military funerals after the church protested the military’s inclusion of gays at the funeral of Lance Cpl. Matthew A. Snyder, a 2003 Westminster High School graduate who died March 3, 2006, in a vehicle accident in Anbar province. ….
Specifically, he charged that they violated his privacy, intentionally inflicted emotional harm and engaged in a conspiracy to carry out their activities. The jury decided in Snyder’s favor on every count.
The Phelps clan and their morally stunted followers have always presented a difficult free-speech dilemma. On one hand, sympathy belongs — rightly — with the families of the fallen defenders of our nation and their families. Loud protests outside their funerals that interfere with the grieving process are positively ghoulish, even without the strident homophobic rants that are the hallmark of Phelps and his gang of idiots. People who engage in such protests have no human compassion whatsoever and represent the most egregious of political cheap-shot artists.
However, as Minnesota’s Becky Lourey insisted last year, Phelps has the right to engage in political speech in public venues. Lourey, who lost a son in Iraq in 2005 and had supported Cindy Sheehan in her summer protest in the same year, considers Phelps as detestable as anyone else — but she voted against a law that made funeral protests illegal. In fact, she cast the only vote against the law, telling the state Senate that it went against the Constitution for which her son sacrificed his life.
Of course, that doesn’t apply to tort law. Free speech doesn’t absolve people of responsibility for the damage they do, and most reasonable people would consider what Westboro’s minstrels of misery do very painful and completely inappropriate. Perhaps this might convince a few other victims to follow suit, pun intended, and ensure that Phelps’ moral bankruptcy gets matched by his financial bankruptcy.