T Nation

Westboro Baptist Church Sued


I'm sure most of you are familiar with the Westboro Baptist Chruch, led by Fred Phelps, which protest at the funerals of soldiers who died in Iraq. Their claim is that the casualties are punishment from God for America's tolerance of homosexuality. Recently they were sued by the father of a marine who died, and a jury awarded the man $10.9 million in damages.

I'm all for freedom of expression, but I'm glad that the Westboro Church is seeing that their actions do have consequences. I think somebody ought to be able to mourn their child in peace.


This is a tough one. I don't agree with the sentiment expressed by the church but I also don't think people should be fined for expressing themselves no matter how atrocious the sentiment may be. What was the basis for this verdict?

I would think the only way something like this could hold up in court would be under violation of some specific property law but the article notes that this was a public funeral service.

The problem with this verdict is now we have precedent for fining free speech. What happens when the next group of people have a "legitimate" gripe but instead of civil charges they are brought up on criminal charges?

What happens when government tries to protect people's feelings?


I agree, I'm torn about this one. Obviously, part of the freedom we enjoy in America means that we will have to deal with things we find disagreeable or even hateful or disgusting. However, I do think that actions have consequences. Even if you are free to do something, you still may have to face the ramifications of that action. for example, I am free to start smoking cigarettes, but if I decide to do so I run the risk of damaging my health.

In this case no one is physically preventing the Westboro Church from sharing their view, they are merely being confronted with the reality of the situation and what their actions mean. That being said, there are definitely some serious first amendment issues in play here. I'm curious to hear some other opinions.


Well we are free to do things provided that they don't infringe upon others rights.

I'm pretty sure that having a rally outside of a funereal saying they are happy he is dead, is an infringement on the family�??s' pursuit of happiness. Clearly they would like to honor their son so that would be their pursuit of happiness.

As we have to be open to the fact that yes the rules may get bent in favor of someone who died serving our country.

Personally if I ever see the guy or his 2 daughters I would beat the shit out of them. They truly are the scum of the earth.

On a legal note, I don't believe they were given a permit to form a protest so that may have been the legal grounds for the lawsuit.


How about if you are a radio talk show host and you say something hatefull about the Rutgers womens basketball team?

Then it's O.K. to be sued for 20 million dollars?

Oh, but thats "hate speech". When people do that they deserve everything that they get.


So how is it o.k. to sue in that circumstance, but not this one?


That's pretty much what I was trying to get at. Nothing happens in a vacuum, and I think sometimes people forget that when it comes to exercising their rights.


I disagree with the idea that courts should protect people's feelings. The key to these cases is that one is able to show some specific damage that was received. The evidence for mental distress is hard to argue for or against.

Did these women have to undergo professional psychological treatment for the wounds they received? Were their psychological wounds existent before this defamation or were they a result of the defamation?

Even still, are people's feelings protected by the idea of natural rights? Certainly, if someone has harm done to his life he should be able to receive punitive damages but under what circumstances do these ideas hold up for defamation?


That whole Imus incident was blown way out of proportion. I don't think he should have been sued.
Moreover, I don't think these two situations are really analogous anyway. You can change the station or turn off the radio. Fred Phelps and his gang are physically present at these funerals, harassing people as they come and go and disturbing the services.


It should have been $109 million.

What they did could almost be considered treason. They were restricted to protest outside a certain distance from the funeral services. Maybe they violated that law. Maybe they were sued for mental anguish.


I'm not torn at all. This ruling is bullshit.

The "pursuit of happiness" is an aspiration put down in the DoI. It is not codified anywhere as law. Why isn't it codified? Because it would be the most open-ended idea ever. It would make the general welfare and commerce clauses look like handcuffs.

The idea that you have to get a permit to assemble is bullshit.

I know this makes me sound like a dick, but I'm putting this family in the Sheehan camp. They are perverting what their son fought and died for.

If this were private property then you get them for trespassing. But it's public property. That means that they should have gotten those "freedom riders" to show up. Either that or one of his buddies should have taken one for the team and kicked their ass.

Every Friday I have to deal with the stinky hippies out in "friendship square" protesting the war. It hurts my feelings to see such shitheads, but you don't see me suing them. Imagine that you're a huge Bush fan and you finally get to see him, but right behind you is Code Pink and they're all holding signs of Bush as Hitler. Should we sue them?

All I know is that they better damn well give that money to some charity. All of it.



Speaking of Sheehan, I just got this email. I don't know if it is true.

Whose Grave Is This? Obviously, it's a picture in a cemetary. What cemetary and whose grave? Sadly, it's the grave of Casey Sheehan. After two years, and a Dept of Defense payment of $250,000 to the 'Peace Mom', Cindy Sheehan has not had the time or bothered to have a headstone placed on this young hero's
grave. And, she doesn't even have to pay for one - the Dept of Defense will provide it.

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) furnishes, upon request and at no charge to the applicant, a govern-
ment headstone or marker for the grave of any deceased eligible veteran in any cemetary around the world.
For all deaths occurring before September 11, 2001, the VA may provide a headstone or marker only for
graves that are not marked with a private headstone!

Flat markers in granite, marble and bronze and upright headstones in granite and marble are available. The
style chosen must be consistent with existing monuments at the place of burial. Niche markers are also
available to mark columbaria used for inurnment of cremated remains.

Apparently she can find time to protest on at least 3 continents, get arrested various times, go on vacation
in Hawaii, have photo ops with the Marxists in Venezuela, but can't seem to find the time to properly mark
her son's grave.





Ohh the horror, look at all that land they're wasting with rotting corpses.


It's not a First Ammendment issue. The court is not allowing the government to restrict the free speech of the church which is what the forst Ammendment protects.

What the court is doing is saying the the unprovable and and unfounded claims that the church is blasting outside of religious services being held for servicemen is causing damage to the families of these servicemen. It then assigned a value for the damages and assessed those damages to the church.

With freedom comes responsibility. The church is violating every possible community standard and showing no decency at all in their behavior. In effect they have abdicated any sort of responsibility of societal behavior and in doing so caused harm to others. If they simply chanted their beliefs in a public square they would be fine. Shouting them at a private family religous service of mourning is what's not acceptable.

And to be honest I think it would be absolutely fair to have law enforcement and the courts turn their back and let the Freedom Riders and the friends of the fallen handle this problem on the spot. Some people just beg for an ass kicking.


How long before we start digging up cemeteries in this country for the land?


We already have. Apparantly, there are numerous native burial grounds that were over-looking the fact that they were located on prime real estate. Did you ever see the movie Poltergeist?

In Japan I heard they dig shafts twenty yards deep that are slightly wider than the width of a man's shoulders. The Japanese are buried vertically when they die. This plot is then used by the entire family -- its the "Toyota" of cemeteries. Even in death they are thinking about efficiency. Wow!

Personally, I think people should be able to be buried on their own land but I don't believe space will become an issue for a long time in this country.


I would imagine that landfills are taking up land a little quicker than cemetaries. That said, it is wasteful and silly. I'm getting cremated and having my ashes put in boy scout campfires where they retire flags. Then I'll be scooped up, ashes of me and old glory together and used a few times before being spread or mixed with gunpowder or something cool like that.



Landfills are capped and reused as public space, parks etc.
I don't see that happening w/ cemeteries.

I want my ashes shot out of a cannon like Hunter S. Thompson. But I want the cannon fired in Fred Phelps' face.


Should there be a statute of limitations on how long we should "respect" the dead? Say, 4 generations?

"Sorry great-great-great-grandpa, your time is up. We need to get this Wal-Bucks built."


Good post, Hedo - and exactly right - the court is refereeing a harm visited on one private party to another.

And wouldn't it be nice if one of the card-carrying members of Rolling Thunder got shoved in the chest by one of these slithering wackos....?