Thursday, November 01, 2007

A Legal Victory of Doubtful Effectiveness

From this morning's New York Times...

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.


steve said...

I concur. There's a sense of poetic justice in the jury's verdict, but I'm not sure what it will change. These people's ideology will lead them to continue their protests, perhaps even to become more radicalized (if that's possible) given what they will see as "persecution." Sigh. I wish that their hearts would be opened. And I'm so deeply saddened that their interpretation of religion (and Christianity) prevents this utterly.

Wyldth1ng said...

I am sorry I cannot publicly say what I want to happen to that church group. I think the least they could do is leave the country.

Iris said...

Fred Phelps and his "church" are terrorists. I don't fling that word around lightly. They spewed their hatred in my hometown of Casper, Wyoming back in 1998 at Matthew Shepherd's funeral. My older sister had been one of his teachers and she was devastated. Everyone was.

Wyld, let's find an island to strand them on.

Grandmère Mimi said...

Picketing the funerals is far worse than picketing churches, IMHO. We've had a visit from members of the Phelps tribe at our church, and it was ugly, but the worst part of it was seeing that they had children along. Imagine growing up in an atmosphere of such hatred.

The family members and friends of the dead troops are grieving and vulnerable, and it's especially cruel on the part of Phelps and his crew to add insult to their sorrow. It's like rubbing salt into a raw wound.