Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Bible Thumpers Behaving Badly-Westboro Baptist Church Edition

Court Says Fundamentalists Owe Man $2.9M

Church Notorious For 'God Hates Fags' Protests

POSTED: 2:31 pm MDT October 31, 2007
UPDATED: 2:33 pm MDT October 31, 2007

A grieving father won a $2.9 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 staged a demonstration at the March 2006 funeral of his son, Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder, who was killed in Iraq.

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.

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved.


Fred Phelps and his lovely bunch of Visigoths got slapped around to the tune of almost three million, is God moving in mysterious ways? Well don’t put on your party hats just yet. There is this little thing called the first amendment and free speech that has to be considered.

A quick look at Wikipedia will clue you in on what a despicable lot the denizens of the Westboro Baptist Church are. There seems to be no limit to the things these so called Christians hate. Anti-Semitic, Anti-Catholic, Anti-Islamic, Anti-Homosexual and oh-by-the-way Anti-American they make the neo-Nazis look like hand-holding, free love hippies. Your group has to way out in la-la land for Jerry “bomb all the Muslims in the name of the Lord” Falwell to brand you as loopy. There is no doubt that Phelps’ lovely little cult is a bunch of deeply disturb haters.

But do they deserve to be sued? Is their speech that beyond the pail? This suite has slippery slope written all over it. There are limits to speech, slander laws attest to that; but in the USA slander has a very high bar for proof. Slander does not apply here as the Westboro protesters are putting out the “facts” as they know them. Scary as it is, these folks actually believe the filth they put out.

The Westboro protesters are being sued not because they told or published lies; they are being sued because they hurt someone’s feelings. Strip down the legal jargon and that is what this is all about; that is the jist of “emotional distress.” This is not to trivialize the hurt and pain that Phelps’ Zombies may have caused a grieving father. Phelps and friends vile piece of performance art was way beyond the pail. But it seems other solutions beyond the civil suite are a better idea.

If the damages from the civil suite are allowed to stand, were will this go? Will General Petraeus be able to sue because they hurt his four star feelings? As a public figure the good general is expected to have a thicker skin than an ordinary mortal but even the threat of a suite would hamper organizations like MoveOn. This suite smacks of political correctness gone into overdrive.

Phelps happy bunch of pirates are not doing anything that “Pro-Life” protesters haven’t done at women’s centers before. The “Pro-Life” crowd is very obnoxious too, very in your face, some would say intimidating. A “solution” of sorts has presented itself with laws and court orders requiring those protesters to keep their distance from clinics. The Westboro cohort has also been limited by such means also. It is a compromise, so nobody is really happy, not the grieving families, nor the civil libertarians, the compromises only good point is it does work to a fashion. Fred Phelps get to scream and rant and act like a total jerk, but he has to do at a far enough distance that normal people can ignore him.

It is not surprising that a Jury decided to back-slap Phelps and crew into the middle of next week. The Westboro Wackos invite revulsion, their over-the-top and overheated rhetoric pleads for a quick trip to the woodshed. They beg to beaten like red-headed stepchildren. Small problem so did the “don’t tase me bro” kid. He was fairly obnoxious actor too. There are several quantum leaps between Andrew Myer and Phelps’ fanatics in obnoxiousness this is true. But, and there is always a but, they do share a commonality in their pushing the outer limits of acceptable behavior.

Maybe the Phelps gang does need to be put out of action; there really are limits to the hate you can spew. That is why many states recognize that certain words are “fighting words” and beyond the pail. You can get fined or jailed for a potty-mouth in some states in some situations. More seriously there are laws against sedition and inciting a riot. The government has a right to protect itself against those who would destroy it, it has a right to protect life, liberty and property against fomenters of violence. This is elucidated in the Supremes dictum of “clear and present danger.

Somehow the Westboro Baptist Church does not appear to rise to the level of a grave threat to the republic. The suite is a sledgehammer aimed at a gnat, it will do grave damage to the pesky insect but at the cost of doing even more damage to one of the pillars of our democracy. It is best for all that this suite gets knocked down on appeal. There are better ways of pushing Phelps and crew into the obscurity they richly deserve.

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