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.
49 thoughts on “There Is A God, And He Doesn’t Like Fred Phelps”
I’m an engineer, not a lawyer, but is a funeral really a “public venue”?
Phelps needs to go back and read the Great Commission. His actions repel people from following Christ and make a mockery of the Gospel.
Be clear that Phelps is virulently anti-gay and runs the Westboro Baptist Church “God Hates Fags” web site at
Phelps continues be described as an “anti-war protester” on blogs such as the Gathering of Eagles, a narrative that has even been picked up by the NYT and gradually morphed into an urban legend about dirty hippie protesters who hassle Gold Star families. This myth gets repeated in various military blogs to our soldiers in the field, who are told that dirty hippies will be spitting on them if they return alive or screaming at their mothers if they are killed.
The constant bombardment of so many, moreso those on the Left, of “free speech” is getting older by the day. Yes, we do have Free Speech, and the First Amendment is pretty basic about this. But, with “free speech,” any speech, there comes responsibility for the words uttered, printed, and the way those words are presented. The “free speechers” will shut down a dimwit like Imus in a heartbeat, or go after bounty hunter “Dawg” almost instantly, but when a Phelps comes along, they hesitate. Got to wonder why?
But let us hold fully accountable those who exercise “free speech” yet run away when it comes to responsiblity or at least a modicum of courage to stand behind the words they utter.
The passive-aggressive tactics of those on the Left, especially on the Left, when it comes to selectivity in shutting down those with whom they disagree is at the root of a lot of this. At the same time they champion those such as Phelps and his tribe.
When you get right down to it, if more people would understand that “free speech” and Freedom really isn’t “free,” there are costs involved, maybe we’d have less and less of the stuff that those, mostly on the Left, seem to want to protect and a lot more actual discourse along the way.
As Jesus said, “Live by the sword, die by the sword.” [Matthew 26:52]
The Phelps outfit, for years, have made money by suing people who object to them in public. They intend to be outrageous in order to elicit a strong reaction. Did you ever notice all the children he drags into this toxic waste? They use their children to heighten the outrage.
Someone videos the interaction. Then they have someone else (not obviously in the demonstration) follow the “offender” back to his car, take the tag, and pay the state $2 for name and address.
At that point they sue, claiming civil damages for terrorising the children. This has been their M.O. for years, and for us here in Kansas it is sweet justice indeed to see these moral cretins begin to get what they deserve.
Jesus also said: “It would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around his neck than for him to lead one of these my little ones astray.” [Luke 17:2]
His troubles are just beginning …
Albert Snyder, Father of Slain Marine, Wins Lawsuit Against Westboro Baptist Church
“They turned this funeral into a media circus and they wanted to hurt my family,” Snyder testified. “They wanted their message heard and they didn’t care who they stepped over. My son should have been buried with dignit…
“However, as Minnesota’s Becky Lourey insisted last year, Phelps has the right to engage in political speech in public venues.”
Becky Lourey is wrong in this. Freedom of speech does not allow the intentional interruption of individual or group services like a funeral, whether public or private. We do have the freedom to express ourselves, but we do not have the freedom to interrupt or prevent others trying to express themselves as well. I can not legally interrupt a church service without the risk of reprisals, for example, even if such a service is open to the public. Phelps and his followers can not interrupt a funeral service through any form of “protest” without the risk of legal reprisal, like being sued.
Note that the judgment is against three individuals as well as the church entity. Intentional torts are not dischargeable in bankruptcy.
Plaintiffs’ counsel should start soliciting funds for the judgment enforcement, aka collection, process to make sure the individual defendants have only a minimum wage standard of living for the rest of their lives. And drag them into periodic collection depositions about their income and expenses.
The traditonal Chinese curse is, “May your children live in interesting times.”
The American curse is, “May your life be filled with lawyers.”
I think Phelps is a bastard and even that he’s wrong about homosexuals in the church… and I disagree with this verdict. They have the right to express their obnoxious views and, explicitly in this case, they were following the law and making their protest in an area allowed for by the law passed by their previous activities.
Assessing them almost 12 million in damages for their protected free speech and expression of their religious views is perverse.
It should be quashed on appeal.
I more or less believe this.
Yipppeeeeee! $11M total. I suspect the punitive damages will be overturned, but the compensitory package ($2.9M) seems correct.
If, after this, Westboro has the ability to travel to any funeral, Mr. Snyder’s attornies haven’t turned the screws enough.
Your definiton of a right to expression is so broad that it would allow me to follow you around with a 10,000 watt powered megaphone loudly, and falsely, accusing you of child molestation, and without fear of a civil suit for defamation and assault on your eardrums.
The First Amendment and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution prohibit government action which infringes on free speech. They do not prohibit private action in the form of tort lawsuits.
Are Fred Phelps and his crew despicable? Of course. Is “The Rev.” Phelps really a preacher of Christ’s Gospel? Not hardly.
Having said the above, is it a good thing when a person or group is whacked for expressing themselves legally in a public venue? Not inside the church or a funeral home….but on a public street? I’m not so sure. And believe me, this Evangelical HATES what Fred Phelps and his so-called church stand for.
No, it wouldn’t. That would be criminal aggravated assault as you well know.
It would, however, not allow 11 million in damages against a religious sect who is protesting at the exact spot where a law passed specifically to curtail its actions demanded they be restricted to.
Hear hear, tgharris, on every part of your post including your opinion of Phelps’ and his group. I hesitate to call them a “church” in anything other than a legal sense.
But it’s going to move to the Supremes. Because it’s yada, yada, yada, First Amendment Rights, and all of that.
You know you can create a commotion outside of abortion clinics;
So if the law stands? I think women will put pillows in their skirt bands … and toodle up to an abortion clinic; hoping to SUE!
I’ve already told you that I’m reading this wonderul book: THE GENIUS OF AMERICA.
Well, in it, for the first time, I learn that in England, and the COlonies, the sport was SUING.
I kid you not.
Otis, deeply involved in our fight for liberty; also said that Americans sued more often than they ate or slept.
Well, you must have thought everyone was just so sweet, huh?
Not so. Revolutionaries are just the type that show up in law offices, looking to resolve “problems,” in front of the judge.
I’m glad this man won, by the way.
But he’s not gonna be getting money all that soon.
This is one of those tin cans … that’s gonna get kicked around for awhile. Stay tuned.
I do hope they lose their shirts — it would be so just to see these ghouls gone for good.
God bless the military families who had to endure these terribly immoral people and their spiritual bankruptcy.
Civil torts don’t have to be crimes. Few are. The most common tort is negligence, in particular negligent driving. Defamation and both negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress are not crimes. Sometimes crimes are also torts, such as assault, but those are a distinct minority.
So these creeps could be, and were, found civilly liable for intentional torts not amounting to crimes. And they deserve to live in poverty for the rest of their lives. That church is gone too. Check out how civil law suits destroyed the Ku Klux Klan.
Translated: if you say something I don’t like, you should have to go to jail or pay millions of dollars.
Interesting take on free speech, comrade.
I’m definitely not saying they are. And God knows if it was my child or spouse’s funeral I’d be pissed.
But… if they were protesting beyond the physical distance set by law… and they were expressing their religious conviction that God hates homosexuals… a conviction I don’t share (see here)… which nonetheless has some backing for it what with the biblical stoning and all… then do we grant 11 million in judgment against a church?
jpe, “if you say something I don’t like, you should have to go to jail or pay millions of dollars.”
Well, there are laws regarding slander and libel, both in the pure sense a restriction on “free speech,” and punishments have reached into the millions of dollars range. And there have been numerous cases of persons sent to jail, all perfectly legal, for exercising “free speech.” Nothing new there at all.
There are laws regarding incitment to riot, to joke about hijacking while in an airport terminal, and a host of other perfectly legal restrictions on “free speech.”
But I was talking about personal responsibility for exercising Free Speech.
Holding a person responsible for their speech, oral or written, is the mark of a civilized society. Say what you mean, mean what you say, be able to back it up, have the courage to back it up, be willing to face the madding crowd of those who do not agree with you…basic tenets of Free Speech.
If you, for example, were one of the Dixie Chicks, and made a few of their anti-Bush, anti-Iraq statements in public, and I as a consumer decided to never again purchase on of your CD’s, would that be a restriction of “free speech?” Not at all.
But, you, for making those statements, would assume the liability [responsibility] for those statements by fewer CD sales, fewer offers of concert contracts, and the like. Again, not a restriction of Free Speech. But in all ways an exercise in responsibility for “free speech.”
In Shenck v. United States, to cite an example where someone went to jail for “free speech,” the USSC made it clear that there are limits to Free Speech, so there is no idealized “free speech” under U.S. law at all. This case is also the genesis of the oft misquoted “yelling fire in a crowded theater” pronouncement attributed to Oliver Wendall Holmes.
[By the way, still waiting for that list of Republican billionaires providing the same level of funding for right-wing causes as Soros and Peter Lewis among others provide for left-wing causes.]
Let me put this another way, as Carol Herman astutely pointed out…
I despise abortion. Even before I became a Christian, I was passionate on this issue. For decades.
I think it’s evil and I think it’s murder. I would like to see capital punishment applied for premeditated murder including this one. Yes, I mean executing the murderous mothers and doctors. And, where the fathers are involved, them too.
Abortions would definitely fall under my regime.
I have no problem saying to a woman who had an abortion I think she committed murder. I have friends who have had abortions, incidentally, and they tend to agree. It was a heartbreaking experience for them.
I forgive just as I could forgive a man who got mad at another man, then killed him, and later repented. I’d be a bit leery, I admit, but I can, as a Christian, forgive in many circumstances.
But I also have a lifelong belief in the importance of life from a human rights perspective. I believe that God hates abortion. I believe Jesus was very clear when he said a person would be better with a millstone tied around their neck being drowned in the depths of the sea than in harming a child.
I agree with him.
Now… if I, behind whatever exclusion zone is set forth in law, peacefully stand there with a sign saying, “God hates abortionists” (I don’t actually believe that, by the way, I believe God hates abortion, but anyway…) do I now owe someone 11 million dollars?
This is free speech?
This is freedom of religion?
As usual you confuse rights with privilege. You also seem confused regarding the meaning of responsibility, accountability and civility.
Welcome to the new world! Time to grow up!
You persistently ignore the context here. That identifies you as a crank whose opinions can be, should be, and have been disregarded.
As much as I regret it, I believe that Phelps (I refuse him the honorific “Reverend”) has a legal right to demonstrate near funerals, as long as he and his idiots follow law in maintaining distance, etc from the funeral.
Phelps is wrapping himself in law to inflict pain on others, and we have become a nation that winds itself up in legalities. Too much so. The proper response to Phelps demonstrating near a funeral is a punch in the face. I don’t believe any jury would convict in such circumstances.
the Westboro cultists aren’t Baptist by any legitimate definition. They only use the name to give them the appearance of legitimacy however with the national publicity of their attrocious actions, such an appearance has long dissolved.
In regards to the lawsuit itelf, many of Fred Phelps’ offspring and children-in-law are attorneys so expect this to be appealed, delayed, etc. so as to prolong any payment or payments they may be ordered to make. Furthermore, knowing their past behavior, I fully expect them to refuse to pay even if the SCOTUS upholds the lower courts rulings. This might bring about interesting confrontations when seizures are ordered on their properties. Again pointing out the devious attorneys who are blood-related or related by marriage to Phelps, expect all properties to be hidden as best as they can from legal inquiries further delaying any monetary gains by victims of their abuse.
Please note I intentionally use the plural (victims) because I also further expect more lawsuits given the successful nature of this intitial one.
The Westboro crowd isn’t finished by any stretch of the imagination but they are riding the downward slope of oblivion with failed brakes and oil-slicked tires.
How can anyone truly believe that Fred Phelps and his clan of morally stunted followers are engaging in political speech in public venues?
Since when is disrupting the funerals of soldiers while waving signs claiming that the deaths of American soldiers came as a judgment from God for allowing GAYS to live openly among us, considered “political speech”.
If Phelps is protesting our involvement in Iraq, I don’t hear that sentiment in any thing he and his clan have ever said.
If Phelps substituted “jews” for “gays” or “blacks” for “gays” would anyone, including Becky Lourey, really claim this was about “political speech” or with all due respect to Ed, about Phelps “right to engage in political speech in public venues”?
If Becky Lourey believes that her son died in Iraq to protect Fred’s right to spew forth homophobic garbage at funerals, she is as delusional as Fred is homophobic.
Fred Phelps is not engaging in political speech —he is engaging in hate speech. The same hate speech he engaged in when he demonstrated outside the funerals of gay hate crime victims for years before he shifted his “venue” to soldiers funerals.
Phelps crossed a moral line then,and he’s crossing one now.The jury understood that truth.Funerals ARE NOT political venues.They are private painful personal matters and must be respected as such.
There are hundreds of places where Phelps can exercise his right to engage in “political” speech – If he has the guts—he can stand in the middle of the Castro in San Fran or attend the Folsom Street Fair and spew forth all the homophobic garbage he chooses, but ALL funerals should be off limits to any and all “protests”.
Thankfully a jury rendered the ONLY verdict that is acceptable in a democratic civilized society.
I can only hope the court of appeals upholds it.
Jury Rules Against Phelps Cult
A few days ago I wrote about a dead Marine’s father who had taken the Westboro Baptist Church gang led by Fred Phelps to court for disrupting his son’s funeral.
It is my pleasure to report the verdict is in and it is not in favor of the Phe…
Put another way, Tara, I do not hate homosexuals, but I believe religious people have a right to express their beliefs including that they feel God hates homosexuals.
If you tell me the Bible provides no justification for that interpretation, I’ll say you’re dishonest, ignorant, or both. But whether it does or not is not the question. The questions are:
– do Americans have freedom of religion?
– do they have freedom of speech?
– should they be punished for protesting exactly in the location where a law passed to curtail their previous protests indicate that they must protest?
For other reasons, I disagree with the interpretation that “God hates fags” and have known MANY gay people I like, and a couple I love, personally.
Am I The Only One Troubled?
I may be about to make myself the most unpopular guy in the blogosphere with this post. I may even be accused of defending the indefensible. But I’m taken aback by the untoward celebration of a decision that imperils the…
Hateful Fred Phelps and his “church” lose big (THUR AM UPDATE)
Thur AM Update: Just to clarify, of course I’m all for 1st Amendment rights – but I like seeing Fred Phelps squirm a bit. Captain Ed has a good post up about this here.
Sickening anti-gay protests at GI funerals
There is no such thing as an absolute right. To make someone else’s personal tragedy an occasion for public political protest is exercising your right to protest against Bob at Charles’ expense.
Funerals and weddings are among those private family ceremonies must which must be conducted in public by their nature. Here in farm country, it is common to pull to the side of the road, put your hat to your heart and silently watch a funeral procession go by. It is a sign of respect and giving the grieving space to do what they would rather not do. We haven’t found a way around it; but there is an indignity in public displays of profound private grief–you are seeing people at their weakest and most vulnerable–and often at their worst. Standing aside and letting the grieving past by in peace is akin to avert one’s eyes when another’s nakedness is accidentally exposed. It is the way of a humane society.
Funeral Protestors Get Their Day In Court And Lose
They lost to the tune of $11 million:
A Baltimore federal jury awarded nearly $11 million Wedn…
Popularity: unranked [?]…
This evangelical Southern Baptist denounces every thing Fred and his minions stand for.
These people are not Christian, they’re nuts. I saw the two daughters on Bill O one night and they had this wild look in their eyes. And they were just so pleased with themselves when they told Bill everybody was going to Hell except them.
I heard or read some years ago, I don’t have a link, but I understand Fred went on his anti-homosexual campaign when he read something about “fags burning” in the Bible. I’ve searched many King James versions as well as other versions and the word does not appear. As it is, “fag” is an old English word for a bundle of sticks. So this is what happens when someone cant rightly divide the Word of God.
And let me be clear about this: God does NOT hate gays. He loves them as much as He loves anybody else. It’s the sin of homosexuality He doesn’t like.
Artie Curtis, I respectfully disagree.
I can’t see speech as a Constitutionally-protected form of assault. Neither can the law. We discharge our Constitutional responsibilities by leaving libel and slander out of the criminal statutes (while, curiously, leaving fraudulent utterances in).
For problems like the Phelpses, who have no realizable goal in mind, and only want to revel in hurting people with impunity, I suggest the following law:
“It shall be an affirmative defense against a charge of simple assault that the blow was struck with an open hand, and that the victim was disrupting a funeral.”
Then just let nature take its course.
I find the actions of Phelps and his followers despicable. Regardless of what the law does to them here, my guess is they will have a lot to answer for before their Maker.
Nevertheless, Christoph has a point. I am reminded of the exchange in A Man For All Seasons, where More tells Roper that, yes, he would give the devil the benefit of the law — for his own safety’s sake.
The abortion protest example has already been brought up. Let me pose a slightly different scenario: How would you feel if the protesters that always seem to show up at Mormon conferences and temple dedications, waving Mormon temple garments in the air and trying their best to upset the attendees, were successfully sued for millions? They’re deliberately inflicting emotional distress, as surely as Phelp’s people. Should it be their right to make that protest? If so, where is the new line drawn?
Fred Phelps And Family Go Down HARD — Jury Awards $11M To Father Of Slain Marine
My first reaction to the breaking news of the jury’s award against the disgusting Westboro Baptist crew who goes around to the funerals of our fallen troops, protesting during the personal, private, heartbroken moment when the families and friend…
There are no (well, I can’t think of any) absolute rights in the USA. Rights always begin to end when they run into someone else’s rights beginnings; then there’s a (hopefully)legal battle over which has the right-of-way. Usually this decision is in favor of the nose, and not the fist.
Yes, this case may become a bad precedent. That’s an argument about how precedent is established, not about this case.
The tort of intentional infliction of emotional distress requires outrageous conduct – indeed, here in Florida, one common test of whether the conduct gives rise to the claim is whether a reasonable person would call it “outrageous!!!”
Unless one considers the Courts enforcing tort law “instrumentalities of the State,” a private individual suing Phelps, et al. for intentional infliction of emotional distress doesn’t implicate the First Amendment at all. Amongst ourselves, there is no First Amendment – respecting others right to their opinion is part of a societal code of conduct, not a Constitutional imperative.
BTW – if you consider the Court system an “instrumentality of the state” for the Phelps suit (“the state is punishing Phelps for speech by providing means for Phelps to be punished financially for that speech”), then the tort of defamation has to follow intentional infliction of emotional distress out the window as well.
[Comment deleted. Advocating violence violates my comment policy. Please read before commenting. — Ed]
Captain, can you please delete jonolan’s 12:50 PM comment and issue a warning to him?
His last comment passes the line into violent — and sexually sadistic — hate speech.
Cristoph: they aren’t being punished for protesting in the location where a law passed to curtail the protests told them to go.
They’re being punished for intentionally inflicting emotional distress on an individual.
We can disagree, I suppose, about whether such punishment is merited in the case (I think it is); or whether the law should encompass such punishments (I’m more dubious about that). But that’s the issue which was presented to the jury.
I understand that, aphrael… I don’t think it should stand on appeal.
These people are nutjob wackos. Give them TNT and access to military barracks and God knows what they would do. But what they actually did was waive signs saying God hates fags and God is judging america by killing its soldiers. Disgusting… but within the realm of historical religious thought and I don’t think it should be met with successful lawsuits.
“I don’t think it should be met with successful lawsuits”
Perish the thought.
Rather, Phelp’s behavoir should have resulted in tarring, feathering and riding (literally, not figuratively) these clowns out of town on a rail. Hangings too good for them.
Phelp’s little tantrum would still have occurred – exactly one time. He would have had his judgement day and he wouldn’t have been pestering grieving families. Problem solved.
But our courts have made things more “civil”.
For oddballs, nut bags, criminals, perverts and lunatics. Like Phelps. Who is all five.
Not for the rest of us.
If they had been marching down the street as an element of a parade that didn’t want them, or outside a church during regular services that opposed their religion, or … but they took it out of the arena of public discourse and into that of a funeral, intentionally intending to cause psychic pain among the mourners.
They intended to cause pain. Assault is in the mind of the victim, and this was an assault.
I can see how there could be bad precedent come from this; that is not an excuse for their behavior.
aphrael finally hit the nail on the head….this was a matter for the JURY to decide, NOT the state….the judge was there to make certain all parties got the chance to be heard, but the state did NOT censor anyone’s free speech rights.
Stated another way, why is McDonald’s responsible for a clumsy old woman spilling hot coffee, that she ORDERED, in her lap? We can argue all day about whether they SHOULD be responsible, but a jury found that they WERE responsible, and that jury was duly appointed the same way they are for every other civil trial.
By the same token, this jury decided that phelps intentionally harmed the plaintiff by his actions, and decided that the punishment should be, shall we say, deliberately punitive. If phelps had (or had been) a better lawyer, he might have made a better case. As it is, he lost and can only pray (no pun intended for the scumbag) that the appeals are successful.
Well, I am gay and 100% pro-military, and I detest in every way possible the actions of Fred Phelps’ so-called church.
But I see no obvious reason for an eleven million dollar verdict in this case. It reminds me most of the McDonalds’ scalding coffee verdict, and any other verdict where the damages awarded are simply beyond ridiculous.
I detest outrageous monetary verdicts more than I detest the Phelps’ thuggish crowd.
I’m surprised at the number of conservatives who delight in the idea that a vast monetary verdict has the designed effect of shutting up a hateful crowd. This is exactly the leftist approach to stifling dissent that we conservatives normally hate.
Phelps and Westboro Baptist ordered to pay millions to slain Marine’s Father: Suppression of free speech or just desserts
It is a serious question and one I am admittedly bothered by. Let me explain, but first I want to make it clear that I abhor Phelps and his protests at Soldiers funerals, and his entire anti gay campaign.
To be double clear, Phelps and his ch…
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