Archive for Thursday, November 1, 2007

Funeral protesters owe $11M in damages

November 1, 2007


Jury: funeral protesters invaded privacy

A federal jury has ruled that the Topeka-based fundamentalist Westboro Baptist Church was wrong to protest the funeral of a fallen marine. Enlarge video

— A grieving father won a nearly $11 million verdict Wednesday against a Topeka, Kan., 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, Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder, who was killed in Iraq.

The federal 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."

The defense said it planned to appeal, and one of the church's leaders, Shirley Phelps-Roper, said the members would continue to picket military funerals.

"Absolutely; don't you understand this was an act in futility?" Phelps-Roper said.


ksmom 8 years ago

Yes, I agree bowhunter. Even though I moved to North Carolina, I would utilize my vacation time and come back to Kansas just for the Phelps funeral! The man deserves the same respect and dignity he gives to others and I'll make sure to do my part.

Unix_Admin 8 years ago

Thank God for Maryland federal jury's.

janeyb 8 years ago

The best response for Fred's funeral would be none at all. No people, no protests and no press. Just a regular day going about our business--with a big smile on our faces of course.

ksdivakat 8 years ago

Thank God for the Justice system in this case and a jury with a backbone!!! I certainly hope that this opens them up to more law suits at every funeral they protest until they are permanately shut up about this issue! Indeed, it is judgement day for the phelps inbred clan!

Crossfire 8 years ago

The Fred's just got b-slapped. This only a good start.

Now would be the time for every past target of the Fred's hate crimes to file a damage claim.

Looks like 1400 past protests multiplied by $11 million. Maybe $15 billion and change.

Hey Fred's. "What the Hell is wrong with you"

Debbie Guy Spreer 8 years ago

I just watched Good Morning America and they had a piece on there about Phelps and his group. It makes me sick that they are getting nationwide attention, which is what they want. I'm so happy that the jury found them liable, but I'm sure they'll appeal, but at least someone finally had the guts to try to put a stop to all this. I'm a Baptist, and proud of it, but this group of people give Baptists, and Christians a bad name. When I tell people I'm a Baptist, they ask me if we're part of that Phelps group. NO WAY! And their signs show the ignorance of the group. God loves everyone, even "fags". He hates the sin, but not the sinner. I have mixed feelings about Fred's funeral.... I'd love to go heckle his family just like they do to others, but that would be, for one thing, bringing me down to their level, and two, giving them the attention they want. So I'll just stay away. Besides, it won't end with his death; he's brain-washed his whole family.... so on it goes. Our justice system will need to put an end to it. God bless our military, and especially to those who have lost their lives fighting for our country. God DOES love you!! And so do I.

Jason Bowers-Chaika 8 years ago

One other possible outcome of this ruling may be that the cult drinks the Kool-Aid. Margie would say the USA is extending a big middle finger to God by ruliing against them. It may be time for the cult to implode and go to their ultimate reward. Although it may be warmer there than they anticipated. I hope that the kids don't get hurt in a Jones Town or Waco ending.

I've also dreamt of the day old Fred dies. I may go to a seperate party but I will attempt to not become to hate that I dispise. I for one will try to discourage any funeral protest of the phelps family. Now if I know where the crazy bass turd is buried I might just drop my pants and make a love offering on his grave.

Cait McKnelly 8 years ago

The judgment is more than all of their assets combined. The family will be lucky to get the money to cover their legal expenses.The Phelps clan plans to appeal which will take even more time. They will drag it out and drag it out until Fred dies and in the end they won't pay a dime. They will keep it tied up in court for the next 30 years. In the meantime they are rolling in the national attention like a dog in rotten carrion, now carrying signs that say "Thank God for 9.10." The only way to get rid of these insidious cockroaches is to figure out a way to jail them and that won't happen until gays become a protected minority and such actions are considered hate crimes. Catch "that" happening anytime soon. I do think we should have a "Bon Voyage" party for Fred when he dies. It has to be terrible to be so hated that people will dance in the street when you die, if not on your very grave. Either way, I wish I could be a fly on the wall when Fred meets his maker. He pretty much ranks up there with Joseph Mengele in my opinion.

Haiku_Cuckoo 8 years ago

I dislike the Phelps loonies, but this ruling makes me wonder who could be sued next. The anti-war protesters who block traffic on Mass St? The "honk for hemp" guy? Is this an example of the erosion of free speech? Did the ACLU look at their case?

mom_of_three 8 years ago

I don't think this has much to do with free speech. The father sued for emotional distress and invasion of privacy. Unless someone can show the "honk for hemp" guy is causing them emotional distress, I don't see it happening.
It does hold people responsible for what they say, but people sue for that all the time....

mom_of_three 8 years ago

In another article, the clan was complaining about "religious liberty."
This has nothing to do with freedom of religion.

DBAWalt 8 years ago

If the "church" was the defendent, then the loonies may be protected.

While the thought of the whole group imploding and disappearing into another dimenstion is very attractive, I would assume the suit was against the "church" and NOT against the individuals. If that is the case, the "CHURCH" would implode, but the hate-mongers would not be individually liable for the money.

The church pays up everything it owns (the 26 sheets of poster board and the bog box of crayons used to write "Gods message"?) and goes away, to return reincarnated as the "WestBURG Baptist Church" - with the same "church" members and same hateful agenda, doing the same stupid, thoughtless protesting for the attention it garners.

"the members would continue to picket military funerals."

"Absolutely; don't you understand this [suing the "church"]was an act in futility?"

Now if the judgement had been against the MEMBERS of the "church"....

Picture these people being dependent on the generosity of strangers for transportation to their hate fests - especially when the stragers are aware they might be incurring a liability when volunteering any such transportstion. Somehow I don't see these people making such an attention-whore production if they were restricted to parading around their own backyards.

I would like to read the court decision to see if the judgement was against the "church" or the members - or both.

Crossfire 8 years ago

I'm filing on the "Honk 4 Hemp" guy. I honked and got no hemp. I am distressed and depressed. Eleven bucks would be enough.

Ragingbear 8 years ago

~~I'm filing on the "Honk 4 Hemp" guy. I honked and got no hemp. I am distressed and depressed. Eleven bucks would be enough.~~

Or a dime bag, I would presume.

justthefacts 8 years ago

Lest anyone be too jubilant, keep in mind that the family intends to appeal this decision and does not intend to stop picketing. So it's a long way from anyone seeing a dime and they are never going to end their picketing efforts.

Even if a higher court does not overturn the award, the family can use bankruptcy to discharge the debt. There is, however, a chance that if enough families file similar suits, and win such large awards, they will not be able to bankrupt out of all the judgments (there is a limit on the frequency of filings), and if enough people win enough law suits, against not just the church and individuals participating in the picketing of funerals, there might come a day when all but their home and cars are owned by other people. It would be interesting to see how well they fare if most of their paychecks are being garnished to pay judgements.

But, as many have pointed out, these folks do not care. They believe they are doing God's will by being so hateful to others. They are zealots. That means they are not rational or capable of being logical. They keep doing what they are doing as long as they are alive and capable of movement. The best thing most of society can do (besides filing law suits against them) is ignore them. No press. No attention. No discussion. End of story.

I personally would like to thank them. Due to their mean spirited version of Christianity, many (including my mother) have changed how they treat and even think about homosexuals. Very few people (if any) see them and think "I want to join in!" Rather, the rational person who reads the WHOLE Bible (not just selected parts) sees them and thinks "Oh my goodness.... I don't think Jesus would approve!" and does all they can to be/act just the opposite. So thanks Phelps family for setting a great bad example of Christianity!

Grump 8 years ago

In addition to the church, Fred Phelps, Sr., Shirley L. Phelps-Roper, and Rebekah A. Phelps-Davis were named defendants.

nekansan 8 years ago

The church has assets. They have an actual church building and property. They might be able to discharge their dept through bankruptcy, but their assets would become a part of that discharge and could be involved in any settlement. I'd love to see their church building renamed the Matthew Snyder Memorial chapel or something along those lines THAT would be justice. The bottom line is the case is far from over and while I hope they loose, I do believe they have a chance of winning on 1st amendment grounds. I just hope the court reasons while you can say whatever you want, there is civil liability for purposefully inflicting emotional distress. Basically say what you want, but expect to be held responsible for your speech.

achtung 8 years ago

sued for emotional distress. i can think of some regulars here....

Amy Heeter 8 years ago

achtung (Anonymous) says:

sued for emotional distress. i can think of some regulars here:.

Pot Meet Kettle.

Ghost78 8 years ago

Is this the first judgement handed down against the Phelps? Is it reasonable to think that they will make every effort to take this all the way to the Supreme Court? Good news in the short term, but I hate the see this group get more national attention.

badger 8 years ago

TOB, it does change something. It establishes that the Westboro Baptist Church's actions aren't universally protected from all legal action by the First Amendment. It gives those who are hurt and upset an avenue for legal redress because the Phelpses can't be arrested for what they're saying.

It says, loud and clear, to the Phelps and others that while they can't be prevented from speaking out and practicing their faith, they'll be held accountable for the damage that practice causes to others.

I think it's an important distinction, because until now a lot of people tried passing restrictive free-speech laws to silence the Westboro Baptists, which are a bad idea, or just threw up their hands and said, "I don't like what he says, but I can't make him shut up." This presents a third option, the notion that as the Phelpses are personally attacking people, they can be held liable by those people for the effects of their attacks. It's not the government, it's individuals looking around and saying, "Hey, the 'free' in 'free speech' doesn't mean you're free from the consequences of your actions..."

This case won't necessarily tank them, but imagine how many funerals they've picketed over the years. How many of those families could still sue the Westboro Baptists? Each time they choose to picket, I bet they get hit with a fresh lawsuit. Court costs, travel costs, those add up. Can those who have jobs support not only the activities of the church but also the cost of fighting trials in eight, ten, fifteen different states? If they declare bankruptcy, what happens to their tax-exempt church status? Also, if they go on record often enough representing their church as politically motivated, they run the risk of losing that status under laws that prohibit churches from acting as political organizations. You can bet that if the church has to be dissolved, any application they file for a new church tax-exempt status will get a fine-toothed comb due to their use of the church as a political organization.

I think my biggest concern is the one gayokay pointed out: what if the group Kool-Aids out? What if they decide to go with explosives strapped to their chests in a public place? I used to think they weren't that crazy, but I'm not so sure any more. I hope that an eye is being kept on them as a possible terrorist threat. If they suicide quietly, I'll be sad for the kids but not really for the adults; if they try to go out with a statement or a bang, though, they could hurt a lot of people.

shockchalk 8 years ago

justthefacts....Thank you for your post. The oh-so-toleratant Christian bashers that frequent these threads would love to lump everyone together with the Phelps clan. Thankfully, I can't think of any church that would align itself with that group or the doctrine they follow. A true Christian is one that loves his fellow man (John 15:12) , that means everyone, no exceptions.

badger 8 years ago

americorps, it's not a First Amendment issue because it was a civil suit. The government can't silence the Westboro Baptists; this was a private individual saying, "Your words did me material harm and you're fiscally liable for their effects."

Things like libel, slander, and defamation aren't protected by the Constitution. Nor is the incitement to commit a crime, dangerous speech (the metaphorical shouting of 'Fire!' in a crowded movie theater), and speech that injures someone else. This case falls into the realm of that last, speech that caused emotional and personal distress to the person at whom it was directed.

The Westoboro Baptists are being told to pay up, not shut up, and that's why it's not a free speech issue. They can talk all they want; those words just have a price tag.

Crossfire 8 years ago

Bear, That's a dime bag and papers. I tried to go paperless but it just doesn't work.

badger 8 years ago

TOB, I don't actually know that it's getting overturned. The amount will likely get reduced, but I think the verdict itself has a good chance of standing. It doesn't violate their free speech, or their free exercise of their religious beliefs, because though I am not a lawyer, it seems to me that the First Amendment doesn't protect the right to use your freedoms in a manner you know will injure others. A group whose faith included, for example, a universal mandate to baptize wouldn't be protected if they went around spritzing the populace at large without permission. Won't they need to demonstrate that the specific behaviour that caused the injury is somehow excluded from the 'injurious speech' criteria? I don't know that they can do that, or that they can prove that the free exercise of their speech or religious beliefs necessarily requires them to say and do the things they did.

Amy Heeter 8 years ago

I think the next step is for we the community to file a class action suit against those protesters that frequent the court house on Saturday mornings. They offend our right to fight for freedom. Next I think we should all file against the peace officers of this community since everything that comes out of their mouths is condecending and rude; offensive for sure. What about those groups who collect food for the homeless; my god they go on and on or the homeless coalition who allows offensive dirtry people to panhandle downtown and urinate on the sidewalks. We shall now barage the courts with civil actions about the things in the community that offend us.

Amy Heeter 8 years ago

Maybe not but the plaintiff must prove that what was said has caused actual damage.

badger 8 years ago

TOB, I don't know of any cases like that.

However, it's harder to argue that, for example, the KKK caused you personal emotional distress by marching, just like it's harder to argue that Operation Rescue caused you personal distress by protesting at a women's clinic. I know that OR operatives have been charged with assault for physically touching women at abortion clinics, and been found guilty of it because their protest stepped outside the lines of what was protected speech.

The KKK's equivalent, burning a cross or personally threatening someone, presents a different problem because the KKK doesn't as an organization take responsibility for it. If the folks who burned a cross on someone's lawn were caught, they should be able to be prosecuted for vandalism, because again the protest steps outside the lines of protected speech.

I think what makes the Westboro Baptist Church case different from a KKK march or an abortion clinic protest is that it focused deliberately on personal attacks on a family member of the plaintiff, actions that could reasonably be expected to cause some form of emotional distress - and they did, and the target of those attacks chose to pursue a liability suit based on it. The protest stepped outside the lines of free speech when it became personally injurious; just like an Operation Rescue protester getting abusive with a woman outside a clinic (I've seen them arrested for gesturing in a threatening manner and blocking the access to the doors, too, not just actual touching) or KKK members committing vandalism, it was the manner of the protest and not its actual existence that was in question.

mom_of_three 8 years ago

Americorps, As someone posted on another thread, (and it could be wrong), the first amendment guarantees free speech, but it doesn't guarantee that someone won't sue you for it if you cause them distress. The first amendment doesn't mean that you can say whatever you want, and not be touched. The government can't stop you from saying it, and guarantees your right to say it, but whoever says it is responsible for their actions, and what might occur after.....

badger 8 years ago

4th grade:

Times v Sullivan established a malice standard, that to be considered libel or slander a statement has to be known to be false and reported with reckless disregard for its truth or falsity in a manner that damages the plaintiff, if I understand the decision correctly. Of course there are criteria for libel, slander, defamation, and other injurious speech. You can't just say, "I didn't like what he said, so it doesn't merit Constitutional protection." You have to demonstrate that the person acted with malicious intent and a disregard for the truth or falsity of the claim. I think the Westboro Baptists met the standard for both of those, and it looks like the Maryland Judicial System agreed with me.

nekansan 8 years ago

One other thought is any attention the Phelps loons get only serves to further solidify the opinion of the majority of the American public. While some may agree with their beliefs with regard to homosexuality, almost none agree with their methods of communication. Every time they show up to protest they shame those on the fence regarding homosexuality to hop off and land on the opposite side of the issue. They have likely done more for tolerance of homosexuality and equal rights than any other group in the state of Kansas. People are rightly ashamed of being associated as having common beliefs with the WBC wackos and their tactics simple ensure that the opposition gains strength and resolve to do what is truly right.

Ragingbear 8 years ago

Heh. Take their church and give it to the KC chapter of the LGBT Alliance.

yourworstnightmare 8 years ago

It is about time religious nuts like Phelps are dealt with properly. This is a good start.

Next should be the anti-abortion terrorists of Operation Rescue. While Phelps protests at funerals, the OR nuts protest outside of clinics where women often deal with very painful and traumatic situations. I see little difference between the two. Both groups are following their version of christianity and are protesting. In doing so they hurting people and practices that they see as immoral.

oldgoof 8 years ago

This has been posted before, but needs re-posting. Anyone wanting to really understand a bit more about Phelps family history need to read this.

badger 8 years ago

4th grade, I think we just read the cases differently. I don't see the establishment of malice standards as equivalent to wholesale Constitutional protection of libel or slander. What I said holds true, that the Constitution doesn't protect things legally held to be libel or slander. That there are standards for determining what will or won't be legally held to be libel or slander doesn't negate that or give the broad-based protections you seem to be suggesting exist.

kneejerkreaction 8 years ago

Fred Phelps is dying? Too funny. I'd like to be at the gates to heaven when Phred shows up. The devil will grab Phred's tail and pull him down. Burn in hell, Fred, your pathetic phamily and phollowers will soon keep you company.

janeyb 8 years ago

Pullled this off the Topeka Capital Journal:

"Levy said there are instances where speech can be regulated, such as in libel or slander cases, but he said those usually involve a specific person whose reputation has been damaged. Levy said the case against the Phelpses was more vague because their signs didn't single out Matthew Snyder. According to court documents, the church's Web site did later mention the Marine's name, saying his parents taught Snyder to "support the largest pedophile machine in the history of the entire world, the Roman Catholic monstrosity."

Margie Phelps said Wednesday that the U.S. Supreme Court has always said you can't regulate speech based on its content."

The Website links the picketing to a personal attack on the Snyders. Also "the U.S. Supreme Court has always" is one of the biggest lies the Phelps have ever told. I think Margie was the one I saw interviewed on TV last night, and while she said "This means nothing. We have a sign saying Thank God for 11 million being made as we speak.", her attitude was not the smug response I have usually seen. She looked upset and angry and didn't appear to love having a reporter in her face.

yourworstnightmare 8 years ago


I don't really want to argue with you, but the distinctions you point out only strengthen my argument. If these are the best distinctions you can conjure, then the similarity is demonstrated.

Being "inside" does not guarantee "out of sight, out of mind". Patients know they will be forced to run the gauntlet again on the way out. This must weigh on their minds during their clinic visit. So no difference, really.

I think the true difference is an emotional and non-rational one: how dare they protest a soldier's funeral? It becomes a "majoritarian" argument at this point, where most people are outraged at the funeral protest but not so much over the women's clinic protest.

I actually think this judgement is a dangerous suppression of the first amendment. I certainly do not agree with Phelps, but to claim (and win) punitive damages from a non-violent, non-physical protest? This is a dangerous precedent.

I think Fred is correct when he says it will be overturned on appeal in about five minutes.

yourworstnightmare 8 years ago

Which causes the most emotional harm?:

Yelling "baby killer" at an women's clinic?


Yelling "God kills US soldiers" at a soldier's funeral?

ksdivakat 8 years ago


Read chapter 2!! This man is terrible!!! He killed cats as a child aand abused his kids as children and thats why they are so loyal to him, they are so fearful of him, and not even his wife would protect those children, she needs ot be beat herself!! Read chap 2 and the light bulb will go off, it doesnt excuse it but it sure as hell explains why such a nut case wacko!!! And most of his kids work in DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS......PRISON!!! Where what goes on there?? Prison brides!!! and they probably play a big part in that themselves......geez, im glad whoever posted this link posted it!!!

oldgoof 8 years ago

Notnowdear: That whole article, and how it got into distribution in the first place is quite a novel tale itself. I just re-read parts of it today...I had forgotten several of Freds earlier episodes. Fred is a cult, and I don't use the word lightly. Dotslines could give us a dozen of her 1,000 word posts, but I can sum it all up: this dude has more in common with Rev. Jim Jones than you know.

Read it folks. It explains:

deskboy04 8 years ago

I also worry that this ruling could supress free speech. I don't agree with Phelps, but think that we need to defend free speech, no matter how offensive it is.

kneejerkreaction 8 years ago

Free speech can also be getting in someone's face and threatening to kill them or cause them bodily harm. Should we protect the right to do this? They're just words.

It becomes clear that there is a line you just don't cross when dealing with others vis-a-vis your personal rights to express yourself. The jury determined that Phelps crossed the line. We'll see what the appeals courts decides. This isn't a clear cut case of protecting the First Amendment. The Phelps may have finally crossed that line.

mom_of_three 8 years ago

I wish the media could take a lesson from Wichita and not give them any publicity during their protests. They were at the funeral of Lt. Bryon Johnson, but not a word was said about it in the paper or on the tv. The Patriot Guard did their job wonderfully.

kneejerkreaction 8 years ago

Just because they don't get media attention doesn't make what they do to the families of the dead soldiers any less painful. They've crossed the line of free speech and entered into the world of abuse when they intentionally exacerbate someone's extreme grief. I hope the decision sticks.

The whole clan/church is filth.

R_Kobe 8 years ago

I like the idea of turning the phelps church into a gay church, that would be a story book ending.

Beth Bird 8 years ago

That is so awesome! Every other state should follow suit and do the same!

Amy Heeter 8 years ago

All of you are filled with hate, but you justify it by grouping yourselves with the milieu. Instead of admonishing Fred we should all offer loving forgiveness no matter what is said or done. All the Father did in this case is throw gas on a burning fire. I like the way so many of you call yourselves Christians yet you nit pick every little detail. Me I'm a sinner; a horrible sinner but at least I have enough compassion to know Fred and his have been wounded and misguided. Give peas a chance for christ sakes.

Tom McCune 8 years ago

They are all vicious narcissistic weasels with delusions of godhood. But they are marginally successful lawyers, which means they are smart enough to have put their assets in various trusts and non-profit corporations long ago thereby making themselves effectively judgment proof. States and local governments just need to tie them up defending so many lawsuits that they have no time to harass innocent people.

Jason Bowers-Chaika 8 years ago

Can you hear it? GRRRMMMM it is the sound of paper shreders at the cult compound. They are scampering around right now destroying papers with financial records of assets and doners. The cult is going to pull and Enron and rat away anything of value.

My hope is that more grandchildren of the cult will jump the compound fence and join the many others that have found freedom. Get out now kids the Kool Aid is a brewing.

I heard a good suggestion for those that wish to thank Mr. Snyder for filing suit against the cult. is the website for the York PA paper the York Daily Record. Write a letter to the editor of the home town paper of the Dad that won against the cult.

While your at it, consider a donation to the Mathew Shepard Foundation at

Combat the hate that the cult represents by working for equality. is another excellent organization to counter the cult.

To ignore hate is to endorse it.

freetorun68 8 years ago

i don't see how they claim that they are a church. everyone knows that God loves everyone. i just hope that those following this idiot so called preacher open thier eyes soon, before they end up in hell like that devils advocate.thier charter as a church should be revoked and i feel for those true baptists that have their image as a church tainted by idiots like phelps

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