After members of Reverend Fred Phelps’ Westboro Baptist Church demonstrated at the funeral of Lance Corporal Matthew Snyder his father was justifiably upset. But Albert Snyder didn’t just get mad – he got even:
A grieving father won a nearly $11 million verdict Wednesday against a fundamentalist Kansas church that pickets military funerals in the belief that the war in Iraq is a punishment for the nation’s tolerance of homosexuality.
Albert Snyder of York, Pennsylvania., 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 later in the afternoon with its decision to award $6 million in punitive damages for invasion of privacy and $2 million for causing emotional distress.
U.S. District Judge Richard Bennett noted the size of the award for compensating damages "far exceeds the net worth of the defendants," according to financial statements filed with the court.
That’s a shame. A real shame. Couldn’t happen to a nicer bunch of cretins.
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 the deaths of soldiers are due to the nation’s tolerance of homosexuality.
Their attorneys argued in closing statements 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 this year a young Marine who lived in the next town up the road from me was killed overseas and Phelps’ church was planning to bring their traveling show down to Texas to "protest" there. The next thing you know cars from Kansas were driving around town, scoping things out. Just as quickly the rumor mill in this little town was churning and axe handles were suddenly in short supply at the local feed store.
Luckily, they decided to call it off and vanished without a word. The boy’s funeral was held in peace and no blood was spilled.
Snyder’s victory, though perhaps temporary, is a win for common sense and decency. The question of free speech is an important one. Any legal experts out there care to weigh in on whether the verdict will be overturned?
As for the religious angle, all I can say is that Phelps doesn’t represent any branch of Christianity that I’m familiar with or willing to acknowledge as legitimate.