Jury awards father $11M in funeral case (about Westboro Baptist Church)

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Jury awards father $11M in funeral case (about Westboro Baptist Church)

From Yahoo News: http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20071031/ap_on_re_us/funeral_protests

By ALEX DOMINGUEZ, Associated Press Writer 1 hour, 53 minutes ago

BALTIMORE - A grieving father won a nearly $11 million verdict Wednesday against a fundamentalist Kansas church that pickets military funerals out of a belief that the war in Iraq is a punishment for the nation's tolerance of homosexuality.

Albert Snyder of York, Pa., sued the Westboro Baptist Church for unspecified damages after members demonstrated at the March 2006 funeral of his son, Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder, who was killed in Iraq.

The jury first awarded $2.9 million in compensatory damages. It returned in the afternoon with its decision to award $6 million in punitive damages for invasion of privacy and $2 million for causing emotional distress.

Snyder's attorney, Craig Trebilcock, had urged jurors to determine an amount "that says don't do this in Maryland again. Do not bring your circus of hate to Maryland again."

Church members routinely picket funerals of military personnel killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, carrying signs such as "Thank God for dead soldiers" and "God hates fags."

A number of states have passed laws regarding funeral protests, and Congress has passed a law prohibiting such protests at federal cemeteries. But the Maryland lawsuit is believed to be the first filed by the family of a fallen serviceman.

The church and three of its leaders — the Rev. Fred Phelps and his two daughters, Shirley Phelps-Roper and Rebecca Phelps-Davis, 46 — were found liable for invasion of privacy and intent to inflict emotional distress.

Even the size of the award for compensating damages "far exceeds the net worth of the defendants," according to financial statements filed with the court, U.S. District Judge Richard Bennett noted.

Snyder claimed the protests intruded upon what should have been a private ceremony and sullied his memory of the event.

The church members testified they are following their religious beliefs by spreading the message that soldiers are dying because the nation is too tolerant of homosexuality.

Their attorneys maintained in closing arguments Tuesday that the burial was a public event and that even abhorrent points of view are protected by the First Amendment, which guarantees freedom of speech and religion.

Earlier, church members staged a demonstration outside the federal courthouse. Church founder Fred Phelps held a sign reading "God is your enemy," while Shirley Phelps-Roper stood on an American flag and carried a sign that read "God hates fag enablers." Members of the group sang "God Hates America" to the tune of "God Bless America."

Snyder sobbed when he heard the verdict, while members of the church greeted the news with tightlipped smiles.

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Unfortunately, there are two

Unfortunately, there are two more levels of review at the state level and the possibility of going to the US supreme court.  I am sure this is a long way from being over.  THis guy's kids are attorneys in their own right; so, the tight-lipped smiles are from their intent of spreading this out for another ten to fifteen years.

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it's about time.

it's about time.


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Hopefully this puts the

Hopefully this puts the church out of business.


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It's good to see that these

It's good to see that these bastards have a good chance to get whats coming to them. How fucked in the head do people have to be to try make shit storms at dead soldiers funerals ?(...ahh...yeah dumb question) perhaps a taste of their own medicine would be in order.

I read in one article on this story that one of the signs was "semper fi fags". I'm sure there are a lot of marines who would like a word with these people. My brother is a marine (and a damn good one I've been told). He's not gay but he is an atheist (but calls himself an agnostic). he is schduled to be deployed at the start of 2009 so this bit of news hit home a bit and Im surprised noone from the funeral service went ape shit at these "protesters" or whatever the hell they are.


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As an ex-marine I can say

As an ex-marine I can say that if I had been at that funeral I would probably be in jail.

Usually I am opposed to these kinds of lawsuits but I think I'll be a hypocrite and make an exception for those SOB's. I don't think 11 mil is enough.

It was morality that burned the books of the ancient sages, and morality that halted the free inquiry of the Golden Age and substituted for it the credulous imbecility of the Age of Faith. It was a fixed moral code and a fixed theology which robbed the human race of a thousand years by wasting them upon alchemy, heretic-burning, witchcraft and sacerdotalism.-H.L. Mencken


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Any decent first amendment

Any decent first amendment lawyer is going to file and appeal and get this virdict overturned and all one has to do to see this is "People VS Larry Flint".

MIND YOU, I find their actions vile and disqusting. HOWEVER, if no trespassing laws, or noies laws were violated, merely expressing a disgusting opinion is not criminal.

This virdict concerns me. Not because of the intent of decent people, but it sends a bad message that offensive things should never be heard.

This politically corrrect jury is setting precidence for a future where future crybabies can silence blasphemy and criticism. Atheists especially should worry about this virdict because we are quite blunt about Christianity. Pollitically correct Christians can and will use cases like this to silence it's critics as well.

The intent of the virdict is not the issue. It is the tactic of using goverment institutions silence dissent. 

Believe me, I am with all of you in condemning Phelps and his sick tactics. But we must not throw out free speech because we get our feelings hurt.

If this virdict is valid, it should be based on provable fact, not emotionalism. If this virdict was solely about protecting someone from being offended, then it should be thrown out.

I warn everyone reading this, pollitical correctness will be the death of free speech, both that of the Christian and atheist. I shudder to think of a world where I cant offend someone. 

 

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Beyond Saving wrote:

Beyond Saving wrote:

As an ex-marine I can say that if I had been at that funeral I would probably be in jail.

Usually I am opposed to these kinds of lawsuits but I think I'll be a hypocrite and make an exception for those SOB's. I don't think 11 mil is enough.

I'm with you on this.

I really do think freedom of speach should be protected. It is the closest thing I have to a "sacred holy law". But on the other hand Phelps is such a fucking cunt and what he does is so vile, so hurtful and so emotionally distressing to the families I'm prepared to make an exception. Fuck him and fuck his "right" to freedom of speach. He does not deserve that right. - and yes I know it could be a slippery slope, who judges what is unacceptable or not?, if they can do this Phelps they do it others, I know all the arguments against but sometimes common sense and common decency must prevail!

 


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Beyond Saving wrote: As an

Beyond Saving wrote:

As an ex-marine I can say that if I had been at that funeral I would probably be in jail.

Usually I am opposed to these kinds of lawsuits but I think I'll be a hypocrite and make an exception for those SOB's. I don't think 11 mil is enough.

You did not serve so that YOU could decide what people can or cannot say. You did not serve to decide what is or isn't offensive. You served, AND WE PROUDLY THANK YOU, you served to protect the Constitution, and that includes offensve things.

As rightfully angery as you are at such vile displays, it still would not give you the right act out in violence.

If Phelps protested my funeral because I was an atheist, the only thing I would require of law inforcement is that he obey the law. Other than that, he can be as hatefull as he wants as long as he doesnt break the law.

If Phelps didnt break any laws in this situation then he should not be sued because he offended someone. That is dangerous ground people are messing with and I do see a future where this will come back and bite society on the ass.

 

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Beyond Saving
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Brian37 wrote: Beyond

Brian37 wrote:
Beyond Saving wrote:

As an ex-marine I can say that if I had been at that funeral I would probably be in jail.

Usually I am opposed to these kinds of lawsuits but I think I'll be a hypocrite and make an exception for those SOB's. I don't think 11 mil is enough.

You did not serve so that YOU could decide what people can or cannot say. You did not serve to decide what is or isn't offensive. You served, AND WE PROUDLY THANK YOU, you served to protect the Constitution, and that includes offensve things.

As rightfully angery as you are at such vile displays, it still would not give you the right act out in violence.

If Phelps protested my funeral because I was an atheist, the only thing I would require of law inforcement is that he obey the law. Other than that, he can be as hatefull as he wants as long as he doesnt break the law.

If Phelps didnt break any laws in this situation then he should not be sued because he offended someone. That is dangerous ground people are messing with and I do see a future where this will come back and bite society on the ass.

 

The courts have quite clearly decided that the government can regulate the location and time of protests. For example, one cannot create a large protest at midnight or randomly start a protest on the capital steps. I am not saying they do not have the right to be beligerent idiots but I am saying that a soldiers funeral is not the appropriate place. There are certainly other venues where they can make their absurd views public. I don't know if this group received permission for the protest or whether it was on public or private property. If they followed the proper procedure the case probably will be overturned somewhere along the line but I think whatever official who was responsible for approving their request should be reprimanded. If they didn't follow proper procedures I think they should pay. Their actions was not free political speech it was harrassment.

However, if it was my brother's funeral you can bet I would exercise my "right" (it is a right in that no one at the time would be able to stop me) to violence and while I might be headed to jail a few protesters would be headed for the hospital. Maybe a good lawyer could get me a shortened sentence due to temporary insanity. It would be worth it.

My attitude is all those protesters deserve a one-way ticket to Saudi Arabia to rot in the desert. I served for a lot of reasons but people like that are not one of them. If you don't appreciate our soldiers you don't deserve to be protected.

It was morality that burned the books of the ancient sages, and morality that halted the free inquiry of the Golden Age and substituted for it the credulous imbecility of the Age of Faith. It was a fixed moral code and a fixed theology which robbed the human race of a thousand years by wasting them upon alchemy, heretic-burning, witchcraft and sacerdotalism.-H.L. Mencken


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Actually several states

Actually several states have passed laws about how close you can be to a funeral to act out like this.  As the Westboro church has been protesting military funerals for years I can only assume that they finally screwed up and disobeyed the law about how close to the funeral they could get.

So screw 'em.  I hope the verdict against them wins and they go bankrupt.

The sad case of it is, and I'm saying this as someone who was raised baptist and am the only atheist in my family I know of, that if you really follow the bible you can't really find much fault with what Westboro Baptist Church does.  The christians that think they are messed up are just  cherry-picking the bible and being non-pushy with their religion to a certain extent.

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Yes!!!!

Yes!!!!


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Beyond Saving

Beyond Saving wrote:
Brian37 wrote:
Beyond Saving wrote:

As an ex-marine I can say that if I had been at that funeral I would probably be in jail.

Usually I am opposed to these kinds of lawsuits but I think I'll be a hypocrite and make an exception for those SOB's. I don't think 11 mil is enough.

You did not serve so that YOU could decide what people can or cannot say. You did not serve to decide what is or isn't offensive. You served, AND WE PROUDLY THANK YOU, you served to protect the Constitution, and that includes offensve things.

As rightfully angery as you are at such vile displays, it still would not give you the right act out in violence.

If Phelps protested my funeral because I was an atheist, the only thing I would require of law inforcement is that he obey the law. Other than that, he can be as hatefull as he wants as long as he doesnt break the law.

If Phelps didnt break any laws in this situation then he should not be sued because he offended someone. That is dangerous ground people are messing with and I do see a future where this will come back and bite society on the ass.

 

The courts have quite clearly decided that the government can regulate the location and time of protests. For example, one cannot create a large protest at midnight or randomly start a protest on the capital steps. I am not saying they do not have the right to be beligerent idiots but I am saying that a soldiers funeral is not the appropriate place. There are certainly other venues where they can make their absurd views public. I don't know if this group received permission for the protest or whether it was on public or private property. If they followed the proper procedure the case probably will be overturned somewhere along the line but I think whatever official who was responsible for approving their request should be reprimanded. If they didn't follow proper procedures I think they should pay. Their actions was not free political speech it was harrassment.

However, if it was my brother's funeral you can bet I would exercise my "right" (it is a right in that no one at the time would be able to stop me) to violence and while I might be headed to jail a few protesters would be headed for the hospital. Maybe a good lawyer could get me a shortened sentence due to temporary insanity. It would be worth it.

My attitude is all those protesters deserve a one-way ticket to Saudi Arabia to rot in the desert. I served for a lot of reasons but people like that are not one of them. If you don't appreciate our soldiers you don't deserve to be protected.

Quote:
The courts have quite clearly decided that the government can regulate the location and time of protests.

Agreed. But who said that Phelps was violating any laws at the time he protested the funeral? Can you prove that he empeded someone's progress, tresspassed or commited a noise violation?

Quote:
I am saying that a soldiers funeral is not the appropriate place.

Who says? What if it were atheists protesting the funeral of a fundementalist Christian who demanded the deportation of all atheists, or demanding their arrest? I am certainly sure we could find soilders who fit that bill.

It is not apropreate in any case to impede the progress of any event in progress. But if you are obeying the law and have legally paid for a protest permit and are NOT violating property rights or noise violations or empeding someones progress and you are on legal public ground, you are NOT breaking the law.

Protesting someone's funeral certainly is insensitive and obnoxious and offensive. But you are making the assumption that Phelps went beyond legaly protesting. If he was within the permit law under the statute and obeyed the law, he has not broken the law.

There is a huge differance between liking what someone does and it actually being legal. I fear what Phelps did was legal no matter how tasteless and tactless, but an emotional jury may not have based it on anything criminal.

It's not about the rights of one asshole, it is about maintaining the rights of all citizens, even the assholes, that way, long term we maintain our right to call them assholes. 

Again, regulating speech is a given. But I warn about over regulating speech to the point so much distance is put between a protestor and who they aim it at that free speech in turn becomes mute.

Bush is a perfect example of that trend. Everywhere he goes he claims security reasons and the protestors end up blocks, if not miles away. Is he doing this for safty or is he abusing power so that he doesnt have to listen to dissent?

My point is, be carefull in HOW you regulate speech and what your intent is in doing such. Laws should never be based on emotion, they should be based on fact and actionable fact. Laws that play thought police are bad.

Any law regarding speech must never be taken for granted or taken lightly.

Getting rid of bigots is a nobel indevor although in a world of 6 billion is impossible. Whatever we do to help the world get away from insane people like Phelps, we cannot afford shoot ourselves in the foot by demanding blanket laws that should be left up to contextual situations, ESPECIALLY REGARDING SPEECH.

To me it is all about the law and nothing but the law, regardess of how I feel about what the person is saying. If they are obeying the law, I dont have to like what they say, I can even hate what they say, but if they havent broken the law, then they have the right to say it.

 

 

 

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Watcher wrote: Actually

Watcher wrote:

Actually several states have passed laws about how close you can be to a funeral to act out like this. As the Westboro church has been protesting military funerals for years I can only assume that they finally screwed up and disobeyed the law about how close to the funeral they could get.

So screw 'em. I hope the verdict against them wins and they go bankrupt.

The sad case of it is, and I'm saying this as someone who was raised baptist and am the only atheist in my family I know of, that if you really follow the bible you can't really find much fault with what Westboro Baptist Church does. The christians that think they are messed up are just cherry-picking the bible and being non-pushy with their religion to a certain extent.

BINGO!

This virdict better be about what laws Phelps broke, not about offending the poor soilders that asshole was being tactless with.

IF Phelps broke the law, then I agree, he is getting what is comming to him.

But I warn against pre-emtive laws that silence blasphemy or dissent or offensive things. Most people never think about "Who gets to decide"what that is, and even more importantly, the fact that they themselves might not be the ones in power passing judgment .

Again, we criticise, blaspheme and even offend theists all the time. The only way to protect that right as atheists is to allow ALL people, even our detractors, critics and haters of atheists, the same free speech we want. 

When anyone, be it theist or atheist demand laws protecting them from something offensive, it is a bad sign that orwellian tyrany could get into power and at that point in the future, it wont matter what you want to say, the goverment will decide for you. That is not good for anyone, them or us.

 

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Brian37 wrote: As

Brian37 wrote:
As rightfully angery as you are at such vile displays, it still would not give you the right act out in violence.

This rests on the premise that physical hurt is worse than emotional/psychological hurt.
I think for the most part I agree with you but I think that there are exceptions and I certainly see it as an open question.


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Brian37 wrote: Who says?

Brian37 wrote:

Who says? What if it were atheists protesting the funeral of a fundementalist Christian who demanded the deportation of all atheists, or demanding their arrest? I am certainly sure we could find soilders who fit that bill.

Actually, I would smack around an atheist if he was protesting at my brother's funeral too.

I'm as big for free speech as the next guy but I have absolutely no problem with laws that prevent protests at funerals. It is not like there are not other places or times to protest. A funeral only happens once in a person's life and the family has a right to mourn together for one damn day without being harrassed. No one should be allowed to protest at any funeral for any reason. If they want to hold a symbolic protest several miles away or posted on the internet good for them, but to actually go disrupt a funeral? Ridiculous. And it should be illegal (if it wasn't already, is anyone ambitious enough to look up Maryland law?) if it isn't illegal Maryland should probably pass a law to protect stupid biggots from getting themselves hurt by protesting at the wrong funeral.

I am not trying to get rid of biggots. I am merely saying that they shouldn't be allowed to protest at the funeral. They have 364 more days this year to protest and a bazillion other places they could be to protest.

 

It was morality that burned the books of the ancient sages, and morality that halted the free inquiry of the Golden Age and substituted for it the credulous imbecility of the Age of Faith. It was a fixed moral code and a fixed theology which robbed the human race of a thousand years by wasting them upon alchemy, heretic-burning, witchcraft and sacerdotalism.-H.L. Mencken


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Brian37 wrote: BINGO! This

Brian37 wrote:
BINGO!

This virdict better be about what laws Phelps broke, not about offending the poor soilders that asshole was being tactless with.

IF Phelps broke the law, then I agree, he is getting what is comming to him.

But I warn against pre-emtive laws that silence blasphemy or dissent or offensive things. Most people never think about "Who gets to decide"what that is, and even more importantly, the fact that they themselves might not be the ones in power passing judgment .

Again, we criticise, blaspheme and even offend theists all the time. The only way to protect that right as atheists is to allow ALL people, even our detractors, critics and haters of atheists, the same free speech we want. 

When anyone, be it theist or atheist demand laws protecting them from something offensive, it is a bad sign that orwellian tyrany could get into power and at that point in the future, it wont matter what you want to say, the goverment will decide for you. That is not good for anyone, them or us.

 

I agree.  The dissenting voice should be given certain boundaries such as when and where, but never silenced.  To agree to that (silencing opposing views) is to commit intellectual suicide.

"I am an atheist, thank God." -Oriana Fallaci


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I think another sad part to

I think another sad part to this story is that those crazy church people have their children holding these signs of hatred.  As Christopher Hitchens says, this is child abuse.


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zekehampton wrote: I think

zekehampton wrote:
I think another sad part to this story is that those crazy church people have their children holding these signs of hatred. As Christopher Hitchens says, this is child abuse.

Especially when it's attached to a "Hold this sign or I'll whoop your ass". I saw a BBC piece on them where the little kid had no clue what the sign said or meant. The person had to lead the kid through "his" answer. 

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