Marine Father Victor in Suit Over Protests
BALTIMORE, Oct. 31 (AP) — The father of a marine killed in Iraq was awarded nearly $11 million in damages on Wednesday. A jury found leaders of a fundamentalist church had invaded the family’s privacy and inflicted emotional distress when they picketed the marine’s funeral.
The jury first awarded $2.9 million in compensatory damages. Later, it awarded $6 million in punitive damages for invasion of privacy and $2 million for causing emotional distress to the father, Albert Snyder of York, Pa.
Mr. Snyder sued the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan., for unspecified monetary damages after its members demonstrated in March at the funeral of his son, Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder, in Westminster, Md.
The defense said it would appeal. A church leader, Shirley Phelps-Roper, said members would still picket the funerals. Church members say American deaths in Iraq are punishment for tolerating homosexuality.
Before the jury deliberated punitive damages, Judge Richard D. Bennett of Federal District Court in Baltimore said the compensatory award “far exceeds the net worth of the defendants,” according to financial statements.
The suit named the church; the Rev. Fred Phelps, its founder; and his daughters, Ms. Phelps-Roper and Rebecca Phelps-Davis.No one I know views the members of this church as anything other than members of the lunatic fringe, an extraordinarily ugly manifestation of the way in which Christianity can be warped and twisted into an unrecognizable form. That said, I'm not sure this is the answer.
I feel for this family. To lose a child-- or parent, or spouse-- in war must be a devastation I can only begin to imagine. To have the religious and civic services associated with bringing closure to that loss marred by crazy ugliness sucks beyond all comprehension.
The jury in this case concluded that the activities of this "church" transgressed the bounds of allowable free speech. I'm glad they concluded that. I hope this muzzles these wack-jobs once and for all. But this monetary award will almost certainly be overturned. US-ans love to throw money at problems, as if that will solve everything. This is phantom money, that neither Phelps nor his followers have. And judging by the response of the church so far... that they vow to continue picketing funerals of US service personnel... the judgment against them most likely only convinces them of their martyr status and stiffens their resolve.
The whole thing just leaves me feeling unspeakably hollow and sad.