Phelps Liable for $10.9 Million

Timothy Kincaid

October 31st, 2007

phelps.jpgRueters is reporting that a jury ordered Westboro Baptist Church to pay the family of a serviceman whose burial service was picketed by Phelp’s church.

The jury in federal court determined that the Westboro Baptist Church based in Topeka, and three of its principals had invaded the privacy of the dead man’s family and inflicted emotional distress when they protested at his funeral last year.

This bothers me in a few ways.

First, I am in favor of protected speech, even vile disgusting speech like that of Fred Phelps and his family. While there is no question that this celebration of the poor kid’s death was disturbing, I don’t like the precedent this sets. Perhaps as I hear more about the details – such as whether the protest was on public property or at a private funeral home – I may reconsider. But I recognize that my speech could be unwelcome and distressing to anti-gay activists or devoutly religious bigots.

Second, I can’t help but wonder if the outcome would have been different had Westboro been picketing a gay person’s death. I somehow suspect that the family of the serviceman was held by the jury to be more deserving. Perhaps I’m cynical, but I doubt they would have given $2.9 million to a grieving same-sex spouse.

UPDATE: The final award was much more:

The federal jury first awarded $2.9 million in compensatory damages. It returned in the afternoon with its decision to award $6 million in punitive damages for privacy loss and $2 million for distress.

Joe Brummer

October 31st, 2007

On your first point, I disagree. I support the first amendment fully. It states the government has no right to control your speech. It says nothing about other citizens claiming loss from your speech. I like the message this sends. It says that you can say what you want and the government can do nothing, but that everyday folks still have power enough to take a stand on speech that is offensive.

Keep in mind, free speech laws only stop the government from silencing you. Other citizens have the right to silence you (if they can) Free speech does not mean that you can say anything you want without repercussion. That isn’t the case and this case proves that, thankfully.

On your second point, I agree fully. I bet this would be different if it was a gay person’s funeral, say…Matt Shepard?


October 31st, 2007

Weren’t Phelps and co. protesting gay funerals way before they protested a military one? And didn’t the outcry come only after he started to protest military funerals?


November 1st, 2007

Whether or not this verdict was appropriate does not hinge on how it might have been changed by the nature of the deceased.

Joe Brummer is correct. This case is not about freedom of speech. The Phelps clan can say whatever they want about gays, the United States, and the military that they want. What this verdict says is they can’t stand outside a funeral and gloat over the corpse while the family grieves.


the poster “Allahpundit” gives his brief legal analysis of the Phelps’ appeal:

“The question on appeal will be whether the First Amendment protects Phelps from the IIED [Intential Infliction of Emotional Distress] claim, with the Falwell case, which also involved IIED, sure to be cited as precedent. In that case Larry Flynt’s editorial cartoon about Falwell was ruled to be protected speech, but only because Falwell was a “public figure” for First Amendment purposes, which the Snyder family likely is not. The Court’s reasoning was that people have to be free to criticize public figures in order to engage in public debate; otherwise they’d live in fear of being hit with an IIED suit every time they said something harsh. Whether they need the same freedom to criticize the war by holding “God Hates Fags” signs outside a soldier’s funeral is another matter.”

Of course in the Falwell case the Flynt cartoon was parody; the WBC’s protests are not. I, like Allahpundit, see little chance of the Phelps’ appeal being a success.


November 3rd, 2007

Taking the Phelps gang to court is a fitting way to deal with them. After all, their harrassment historically has taken two forms. One has been obnoxious protests. For example, they protested a diner in Kansas where a lesbian worked until I believe she quit.

The other thing they have done is taken people to court. Fred Phelps filed so many frivilous lawsuits that he was disbarred and banned from the Federal Courts. Unfortunately, many of his brood have become lawyers and run a family law firm cum church.

So a devastating lawsuit over one of their obnoxious harrassing protests seems a fitting way to bring them down. Maybe this soldier’s father can force them to sell the church and all the surrounding homes that are owned by the family.

David D.

November 7th, 2007

Tim is right on his first point, I believe. As the USA sinks further into a police state mentality, people who don’t have limitless financial resources to fight a lawsuit will have a tendency to be quiet, to not say what needs to be said. Fred Phelps and followers are arguably hairballs of first rank, but if they are silenced by the system, so too will we.
The logical result of all of this can be seen in eastern Europe where dark and evil forces have crushed the spirit out of people for a century: they get drunk and stay drunk. Any opposition to the status quo is quickly snuffed out. After generations of this oppression they are still unable to function.
Our future as a nation in the face of these court rulings is very bleak. Do you disagree? Fine. I’ll sue you into oblivion. It’s a free country.

Leave A Comment

All comments reflect the opinions of commenters only. They are not necessarily those of anyone associated with Box Turtle Bulletin. Comments are subject to our Comments Policy.

(Required, never shared)

PLEASE NOTE: All comments are subject to our Comments Policy.


Latest Posts

The Things You Learn from the Internet

"The Intel On This Wasn't 100 Percent"

From Fake News To Real Bullets: This Is The New Normal

NC Gov McCrory Throws In The Towel

Colorado Store Manager Verbally Attacks "Faggot That Voted For Hillary" In Front of 4-Year-Old Son

Associated Press Updates "Alt-Right" Usage Guide

A Challenge for Blue Bubble Democrats

Baptist Churches in Dallas, Austin Expelled Over LGBT-Affirming Stance

Featured Reports

What Are Little Boys Made Of?

In this original BTB Investigation, we unveil the tragic story of Kirk Murphy, a four-year-old boy who was treated for “cross-gender disturbance” in 1970 by a young grad student by the name of George Rekers. This story is a stark reminder that there are severe and damaging consequences when therapists try to ensure that boys will be boys.

Slouching Towards Kampala: Uganda’s Deadly Embrace of Hate

When we first reported on three American anti-gay activists traveling to Kampala for a three-day conference, we had no idea that it would be the first report of a long string of events leading to a proposal to institute the death penalty for LGBT people. But that is exactly what happened. In this report, we review our collection of more than 500 posts to tell the story of one nation’s embrace of hatred toward gay people. This report will be updated continuously as events continue to unfold. Check here for the latest updates.

Paul Cameron’s World

In 2005, the Southern Poverty Law Center wrote that “[Paul] Cameron’s ‘science’ echoes Nazi Germany.” What the SPLC didn”t know was Cameron doesn’t just “echo” Nazi Germany. He quoted extensively from one of the Final Solution’s architects. This puts his fascination with quarantines, mandatory tattoos, and extermination being a “plausible idea” in a whole new and deeply disturbing light.

From the Inside: Focus on the Family’s “Love Won Out”

On February 10, I attended an all-day “Love Won Out” ex-gay conference in Phoenix, put on by Focus on the Family and Exodus International. In this series of reports, I talk about what I learned there: the people who go to these conferences, the things that they hear, and what this all means for them, their families and for the rest of us.

Prologue: Why I Went To “Love Won Out”
Part 1: What’s Love Got To Do With It?
Part 2: Parents Struggle With “No Exceptions”
Part 3: A Whole New Dialect
Part 4: It Depends On How The Meaning of the Word "Change" Changes
Part 5: A Candid Explanation For "Change"

The Heterosexual Agenda: Exposing The Myths

At last, the truth can now be told.

Using the same research methods employed by most anti-gay political pressure groups, we examine the statistics and the case studies that dispel many of the myths about heterosexuality. Download your copy today!

And don‘t miss our companion report, How To Write An Anti-Gay Tract In Fifteen Easy Steps.

Testing The Premise: Are Gays A Threat To Our Children?

Anti-gay activists often charge that gay men and women pose a threat to children. In this report, we explore the supposed connection between homosexuality and child sexual abuse, the conclusions reached by the most knowledgeable professionals in the field, and how anti-gay activists continue to ignore their findings. This has tremendous consequences, not just for gay men and women, but more importantly for the safety of all our children.

Straight From The Source: What the “Dutch Study” Really Says About Gay Couples

Anti-gay activists often cite the “Dutch Study” to claim that gay unions last only about 1½ years and that the these men have an average of eight additional partners per year outside of their steady relationship. In this report, we will take you step by step into the study to see whether the claims are true.

The FRC’s Briefs Are Showing

Tony Perkins’ Family Research Council submitted an Amicus Brief to the Maryland Court of Appeals as that court prepared to consider the issue of gay marriage. We examine just one small section of that brief to reveal the junk science and fraudulent claims of the Family “Research” Council.

Daniel Fetty Doesn’t Count

Daniel FettyThe FBI’s annual Hate Crime Statistics aren’t as complete as they ought to be, and their report for 2004 was no exception. In fact, their most recent report has quite a few glaring holes. Holes big enough for Daniel Fetty to fall through.