Schandenfreude Over Fred Phelps

As many of you have no doubt heard, Democrat Fred Phelps, of God hates f*gs fame has been hit with an 11 million dollar civil judgment for protesting the funeral of a Marine killed in Iraq.

Ha-ha!

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.”

…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.

The Ace of Spades HQ commentary on Phelps free speech argument was pretty funny,

“He says the case is all about the “freedom of speech which our soldiers are supposedly fighting for overseas.”

Um, if screaming at a soldier’s funeral that “God hates F*gs” and “God Got his Vengeance” is free speech, I’m not sure I want it anymore.”

In all seriousness, yes, Fred Phelps does have a First Amendment right to believe and say that, “God hates F*gs” and “God Got his Vengeance,” but as I’ve been pointing out for more than a year and a half, he doesn’t have a Constitutional right to do it at someone’s funeral.

It our society, we often make laws that prevent a person from saying a certain thing, at a certain place or time. For example, if I showed up outside of John Murtha’s house at 3 AM with a bullhorn and started reading Republican campaign literature, I’d get hauled off to the local police station faster than you could say, “disturbing the peace.” Would that mean that my First Amendment rights were violated? No, it would just mean I can’t say anything I want, at any place I want, at any time I want. The same goes for Phelps.

Moreover, although I am not a big fan of these sort of huge awards in jury lawsuits, Phelps and his gang of misfits certainly did invade Albert Snyder’s privacy and cause him emotional distress by protesting his son’s funeral. Furthermore, Phelps purposefully and maliciously went to great lengths to inflict harm and suffering on a grieving family. That’s far more than can be said in most cases of this sort.

So, with that in mind, I hope this judgment sticks and Phelps is left so destitute that he’s stuck walking around with a “Will Paint Homophobic Signs For Food” sign. It would serve him right.

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