Albert Snyder, father of Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder who was killed in Iraq, has managed to successfully sue the asshats of Westboro Baptist Church that go around picketing dead soldier’s funerals with banners thanking God for killing the marines because America tolerates homosexuals. It was considered a long shot civil suit, but he won the lawsuit:
The brokenhearted father of a Marine killed in Iraq won a long-shot legal fight today after a federal jury in Baltimore awarded him nearly $11 million in a verdict against members of a Kansas church who hoisted anti-gay placards at his son’s Westminster funeral.
The jury’s announcement 24 hours after deliberations first began was met with tears and hugs from the family and supporters of Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder, whose March 2006 funeral was protested by members of the Westboro Baptist Church with signs including “Thank God for dead soldiers.”
Snyder’s father, Albert, won on every count of his complaint, as well as $2.9 million for compensatory damages and $8 million for punitive damages.
However the case raises some troubling issues over where the right of Free Speech begins and ends. As much as I detest the Westboro Baptist morons I do think they have a right to protest if they so wish and I question the grounds on which this case was decided:
The courtroom fight came down to whether Westboro had a legal right to demonstrate at the March 2006 funeral of Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder or whether the protesters crossed the line because their message impugned the grieving family’s reputation and unlawfully invaded the Snyders’ privacy.
The Marine’s father from York, Pa., sued the church and three of its members for intentionally invading his privacy because his deceased son did not have that right any longer. For the claim to be successful, the jury needed to conclude that the church’s actions at the funeral—and later, in a posting about Matthew Snyder on its Web site—were “highly offensive to a reasonable person,” according to the jury instructions.
Albert Snyder also claimed that the church’s actions were an intentional infliction of emotional distress. Under the law, the five women and four women of the jury needed to find that the church’s conduct was “intentional or reckless” to find for Snyder. Jury instructions also required that the conduct be “extreme and outrageous,” leading to severe emotional distress.
“You must balance the defendants’ expression of religious belief with another citizen’s right to privacy,” presiding judge Richard D. Bennett instructed jurors yesterday.
It goes without saying that some folks could argue that SEB itself is “offensive to a reasonable person” and I’ve written more than one entry that was critical of specific people not the least of which includes the Westboro Baptist church. As reprehensible as the actions of the Westboro people are, I’m not sure I see how they violated Snyder’s right to privacy and whether they had the intent to of inflicting emotional distress is also questionable. The idea that they can be sued simply because they were being disrespectful and saying things people don’t like is chilling to say the least. I wouldn’t be surprised to see this overturned on an appeal if the Westboro folks can afford to pursue it.