Thursday, November 01, 2007

Hate Church Ordered to Pay $10.9 for Funeral Protest

The Westboro Baptist Church, a hate group located in Topeka, Kansas has been ordered to pay almost $11 million in damages to Albert Snyder of York, PA as the result of an ongoing lawsuit. The Westboro Baptist Church, known for its slogans "God Hates Fags" and "Thank God for Dead Soldiers", recieved much attention for its protests to the criminal trial of the men who killed Matthew Shepard in 1998. Recently, the Church has been picketting the funerals of fallen soldiers in Iraq. They feel that the death of America's soldiers is God's way of punishing us for our tolerance of homosexuality. The suit was filed by Snyder to compensate for a protest that was held at his son's funeral. Snyder's son was killed in Iraq while serving for our country.
According to the article, "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."
The Westboro Baptist Church defines hate groups as we learned in class. They are clearly fanatic religous zealots with no tolerance for those who are not a part of their cause. While this group is a quintessensial hate group in the purest sense of the term, should they be allowed to practice free speech, or do they deserve to be sued for expressing their (quite laughable, I must add) opinion. Is protesting a funeral an abuse of free speech? Is there even such a thing as an abuse of free speech? In addition, should $10.9 million be awarded to Mr. Snyder in this case, or was the jury being as extreme in their condemnation of the Church as the Church is in their condemnation of America? These are very touchy questions that need to be addressed. On one hand, our right to the freedom of speech is called into question. On another hand, the issues of frivolous lawsuits and overcompensation are being addressed. Personally, I feel that picketting a funeral is emotionally damaging and should be awarded compensation in a civil court. However, I think that $10.9 million may be a bit excessive in this case. Should a civil jury be allowed to make a socio-political statement in their verdict? I will leave that up to you.


Austin said...

I generally speaking consider myself to be tolerant of most people's opinions, and a supporter of free speech, but the Westboro Baptist Church is one of those organizations that really gets my blood boiling. Spending one minute on (or any of their sister sites, including, and will get you wondering how people really get that crazy, hateful, and intolerant.

I find the idea of protesters at a funeral of a soldier harassing people to be so offensive I really don't think I can comprehend it -- it's one of those scenarios where you would have to excuse a family member of the deceased for murdering someone.

I don't know what kind of financial blow a $10.9 million dollar payment would do to the Westboro Baptist Church, but let's hope it hurts them, a lot.

ERose said...

I agree, hence my post. I actually got sick while visiting their website. But I wanted to question the verdict of the case in terms of our constitutional right to free speech. I'm having a very hard time deciding how I feel because, as an American, I value my right to free speech, but as a human being, I cannot stand to see the existence of the Church.

rugbyplayr said...

Like others have said before, the Westboro Baptist Church is an organization that defines what a hate group is. Their language and expression is not only distasteful but extremely offensive and hurtful. Is this however grounds to take away their freedom of speech or expression guaranteed by the Bill of Rights? Unfortunately, I do not think so. Granting $10.9 mil in damages to a family that was psychologically affected by the protests of this group sets a precedent that I am not sure the judicial system wants to bear. Protesting outside of a funeral was callous and mean, but it is unconstitutional for them to be punished for it.
I wish there was a way for only hate groups to be silenced, but that does not happen here. Unlike in France where it is punishable by law to (for example) denounce the Holocaust, there are no such provisions here and I do not believe that Americans will be able to agree if any such law were ever made. I really hate how the 'Church' expresses itself, but that is their right.