The members of Kansas’ Westboro Baptist Church vowed to appeal after a Baltimore jury hit them with $10.9 million in damages for protesting at the funeral of a Marine killed in Iraq. The jurors unanimously agreed that the protesters—who waved signs reading “Thank God for dead soldiers” and said military casualties were divine payback for America’s tolerance of gays—had invaded the privacy of the family of the late Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder. But Constitutional scholars said the verdict would probably be overturned on appeal because of the protesters’ First Amendment right to free speech.
What the commentators said
“Despite the verdict, the outraged buzz likely won't die down,” said Vera H-C Chan in the Yahoo! buzz log blog. The church members are already preparing an appeal—and more protests. “With 40 states now keeping tabs on this hate group, we'll see if their tactics—and their finances—can withstand the scrutiny.”
It would be tempting to celebrate this verdict, said Mike Hendricks in The Kansas City Star, but it only gives Pastor Fred “Phelps and his spawn” the attention they crave. Every time a newspaper reports on their ghoulish protests, it must explain that these homophobic monsters insist soldiers’ “deaths are God’s vengeance against a nation that tolerates homosexuality.” We can’t shut them up—“the Constitution won’t allow it”—but maybe tying the protesters in court will leave them with no time to go to funerals.
“Phelps is bigoted scum,” said Ted Frank in the blog Overlawyered.com. But “imposing bankrupting damages for a protest on a public sidewalk is appalling.” What’s more, Albert Snyder’s claim that the protest exacerbated his diabetes was pure “junk science,” and his insistence that the protest “upset him particularly because his son was not gay” was more than a little creepy.