Yesterday, in a move that will hopefully lead to the bankruptcy of the Westboro Baptist Church, a jury awarded Albert Snyder, the father of a dead Marine, nearly $11 million for emotional damages incurred at his son’s funeral. You see, the funeral had been picketed by members of the Westboro Baptist Church carrying signs that read “Thank God for dead soldiers” and “God hates fags,” among others. During the trial, Mr. Snyder’s laywer urged the jury to “ensure the damages were high enough to stop the church campaigning”, something that this will hopefully do. After many, many appeals and a likely Supreme Court partial reversal on First Amendment grounds.
If we’re lucky, though, the appeals process will cost the church enough to stop their protests. And there’s no reason that local governments can’t create larger buffer zones around cemeteries to protect funerals from protesters. And who knows, by the time this one hits the Supreme Court, maybe the members will have realized that speech that injures people shouldn’t be afforded the same protections as non-injurious speech. And there’s no doubt that Mr. Snyder was injured by the Phelps family, so he deserves compensation for his injuries. Nearly $11 million worth of compensation.
The world is full of small-minded, hateful people, and the Phelps’ of the Westboro Baptist Church are among the smallest and most hateful. If you’re interested in a good investigation of the family behind the church, check out the BBC’s interview of Louis Theroux, who spent three weeks living with the extended family. Also, check out Michael Moore messing with Fred Phelps, founder of the Westboro Baptist Church, on his TV show The Awful Truth.
If you’re interested in taking a more direct role against these loonies, check out The Patriot Guard Riders. They’re a group of people devoted to attending military funerals as guests of the family whose purpose is to physically block the line of sight from the funeral attendees to any and all protesters, but most specifically protesters from the Westboro Baptist Church. If you’re interested in joining, check out the website – they don’t even care if you ride a motorcycle or support the occupation of Iraq, only that you respect those who have died and their families.