Grieving father sues Westboro Baptist Church asshats and wins $11 million.

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.

65 thoughts on “Grieving father sues Westboro Baptist Church asshats and wins $11 million.

  1. It took long enough, but it finally came out… here is the straw man of Ryan’s whole argument.

    So? Would you like it if someone started spouting plausible but untrue things about you that you could not defend yourself against?

    I could care less if someone started spouting out a bunch of shit about me. The great thing about Thomas Jefferson’s Marketplace of Ideas is that we have the ability to say what we want, and others have the ability to choose what to listen to.

    You are still perfectly free to be an annoying asshole as long

    Stop right there. The minute you add a qualifier to that statement, the proverbial “you” is no longer free. You have now just limited free speech.

    as long as what you say is true, is an honest interpretation of the facts, or is faithful reporting of quotation, regardless of your purpose in making such a statement. In other words, nothing much has changed.

    Nothing much as changed… right whatever. And who gets to choose the italicized sections from above? Huh, you, Bush? This is what everyone was trying to say, this is what Dave was trying to say. You are completely missing the point. When you put A LIMIT OR ANY LIMITS on free speech, speech is no longer free.

    Or better yet, when you allow someone to sue because, as Moloch so eloquently put it, they are a pussy, you open the door to further lawsuits. This case essentially is saying that the father of the soldier is getting money for damages caused by a protest off the grounds of the funeral. What’s to stop you Ryan from suing Les because he pissed you off?

    Or better yet, what’s to stop Bush from suing antiwar peace protesters?

  2. I could care less if someone started spouting out a bunch of shit about me.
    The great thing about Thomas Jefferson’s Marketplace of Ideas is that we have the ability to say what we want, and others have the ability to choose what to listen to.

    You should care.  A man’s reputation is his stock in trade.  It is his credibility and affects his career, his personal relationships – I’m hard pressed to think of anything that matters more.  Think the “marketplace of ideas” will fix everything?  Well since I’m in Hannibal, Missouri tonight, I’ll quote Mark Twain:  “The major difference between a cat and a lie is that a cat only has nine lives.” 

    This is, by the way, consistent with modern research about how the brain retains and attributes information based on how often it is heard.  If someone’s really being ‘swift-boated’, they’re screwed.  That which used to be called ‘false witness’ is really dirty pool.

  3. Well yes, obviously I care in the sense that I do what I can to create a situation where people will think highly of me. You’re misreading me if you think I don’t care in the sense that I lie all the time and piss people off. But I don’t care in the sense that if I’ve done all I can and someone is just an asshat than fuck them. If someone wants to swiftboat me, all I can do is continue to be myself and show people who I really am.

  4. Maybe I have underestimated the madness.

    Security was tight today as Westboro Baptist Church member Shirley Phelps-Roper appeared in Sarpy County Court to answer charges that she mutilated a flag and put her child in danger while protesting at the funeral of a Bellevue, Neb., soldier.

    […]

    According to Bellevue police, Phelps-Roper had her 10-year-old son stomp on an American flag. Church members had obtained a city of Bellevue permit to protest.

    The Omaha World-Herald Posted on Mon, Nov. 05, 2007 03:02 PM

    I really, really hope there is more to this than is being reported.

  5. 1.  The American flag, as a concept, can stand up to far worse than some religious nut “mutilating” it.  There’s certainly First Amendment grounds for fighting such a charge.

    2.  It certainly seems likely that there’s more to the case of child endangerment than the stomping upon of a flag.  Was the flag on fire at the time?  Even so, it *sounds* pretty sketchy.

    (Good Lord, I’m standing here defending the Phelpsies.  What a strange world this is.)

  6. Reading more about the case, it sure sounds like the DA has overstepped:

    http://www.kansascity.com/news/breaking_news/story/347323.html

    The pretrial hearing centered on a defense motion requesting that the prosecution describe in detail the specific facts that support the charges, which include disturbing the peace, contributing to the delinquency of a minor and negligent child abuse.

    Her attorney, Bassel El-Kasaby, argued that without specifics on what actions broke the law in each case and who was victimized he can’t prepare his case.

    “I don’t think you can disturb the peace of a police officer or firefighter,” he said.

    He said it was “unorthodox” and potential “overreaching” by prosecutors to charge Phelps-Roper with contributing to the delinquency of a minor and negligent child abuse.

    “I’d like to know who the victim is and what harm they suffered,” he said.

    […] Deputy Sarpy County Attorney Marc Delman resisted El-Kasaby’s request, saying he didn’t want to limit the basis for the charges.

    Delman told the judge that Phelps-Roper had “cleanly, openly and notoriously” made her son step on an American flag while her church protested at the funeral of William Bailey.

    “Clearly the Bailey family was very upset by this,” he said. Delman said Phelps-Roper’s contempt for the flag gave rise to the case, but the rest of the charges stemmed from other actions as well, including slogans on signs and other conduct.

    The greatest disservice that can be done to the moral cause against the Phelps clan is trump up goofy criminal charges against them.

  7. Maybe the “other conduct” was when she encouraged him to smoke a home-grown uh, cigarette and then use to light the flag, so-called desecrated because it was part of a Molotov cocktail?  hmmm

  8. I have no language to express my feelings for WBC et al.  The only way I could truely express my self freely would be physical violence to the whole bunch of repressed homosexuals.  Bet there are limits on the 1st amendment.

  9. I’m with MM here. It’s another example of where you are willing to give up someone else’s rights because you are pissed at them. Same thing as what we’ve already been discussing.

  10. ***Dave: Awful and maddening and shameless—but a personal defamatory harm done to the father?  I think not.

    Correct. The case hinged upon the fact that the son could not defend himself (being that he’s dead). I won’t go into the merits of whether the case should have been taken on that basis, however. I’ll stick strictly to the case at hand.

    ***Dave: The case was settled based on invasion of privacy (dubious, from what I’ve read) and the idea of malicious infliction of distress (possibly so, but nothing to do with the truth or falseness of the charges).

    The “invasion of pricacy” part I won’t touch, since I don’t agree with the circumstances of that decision. But “malicious infliction of distress” depends upon knowing or reckless spreading of falsehood in any civil court.

    Webs: It took long enough, but it finally came out… here is the straw man of Ryan’s whole argument

    As a matter of fact, that was an appeal to emotion, not a Straw Man. I’ll forgive myself for it since it was persuasion after making my case. Besides which, our court system does not care whether you are fine with being insulted. Other people depend on their reputations (which defamation suits are all about.

    Webs: Stop right there. The minute you add a qualifier to that statement, the proverbial “you” is no longer free. You have now just limited free speech.

    I’m perfectly willing to entertain your opinion, but you are incorrect, and plainly so. As I said, you are free to say whatever you please, but you have to be willing to pay the piper for it sometimes. Defamation suits have been around almost as long as the Bill of Rights, and they all hinge upon this fact.

    If I started spreading rumors around that Joe Bloe down the street rapes babies, I should expect a lawsuit, and if I don’t have any factual information to that effect, I will lose the case. What we have before us is a similar case.

    Webs: Nothing much as changed… right whatever. And who gets to choose the italicized sections from above? Huh, you, Bush? This is what everyone was trying to say, this is what Dave was trying to say. You are completely missing the point. When you put A LIMIT OR ANY LIMITS on free speech, speech is no longer free.

    There is no call for nastiness, Webs. I can’t help what you do and do not understand about our legal system, and I am not beholden to explain the details to you. Neither am I qualified to do so. I am perfectly aware of the fact that I may be wrong, but based on the information I have, I am not. If you would like to show that I am incorrect, please stick to justifying your fears rather than merely expressing them. Based on this entire conversation, you are incorrect. There are other avenues to pursue.

    Webs: What’s to stop you Ryan from suing Les because he pissed you off?

    He hasn’t, so it’s not an issue. I would assume from what I already know of Les that I should be pissed off at myself if I happen to offend him so badly. So…I would say my high opinion of him would stop me from suing him. If that weren’t present, I would go by whether his information were factual.

    Webs: Or better yet, what’s to stop Bush from suing antiwar peace protesters?

    That’s pretty far afield, Webs, and reflects a lack of understanding of both politics and jurisprudence. I’ll say it just one more time: this is a civil suit and has nothing whatsoever to do with anyone in power. Antiwar protesters are expressing opinions based on percieved fact, and the President, in the capacity of his office, cannot bring a civil suit against anyone. Only persons (ie, corporations or humans) can bring civil suits to court; political offices cannot.

    Webs: If someone wants to swiftboat me, all I can do is continue to be myself and show people who I really am.

    Yes, and that got John Kerry really far, didn’t it? John Kerry could sue for that, if he wanted to; he doesn’t for his own reasons. But the fact is, it may have ended up costing us all in the long run, and you seem to go about saying what people say of one another has no lasting effect! In your eyes, John Kerry might not be a pussy, but I consider him weak since he never really defended himself. (He agrees with that, by the way.)

    AppalachianLady: One cannot, legally speaking, defame (libel, slander) a dead person.

    Oh, I wholeheartedly agree with you on this one. The way this case was handled, it seemed like it was kind of pushed through to make Westboro pay. But that’s a matter of due process, not free speech. As the decision was handed down, based on the facts the court chose to see, the decision was correct and does not have the effect on Free Speech people seem to claim. But this case has me much more worried about due process, folks!

  11. First off, sorry if I came off a little strong Ryan, I mean no harm. I think I need to use the smileys more often as it’s hard to show emotion online (meaning if I’m not trying to be an ass I might come off that way). wink

    Besides which, our court system does not care whether you are fine with being insulted. Other people depend on their reputations (which defamation suits are all about.

    But that’s the problem, this is not a defamation case. Unless there is some article I am missing, below is what the case is about…

    The jury found the defendants liable for violating the Snyder family’s expectation of privacy at the funeral and for intentionally inflicting emotional distress.

    Webs: What’s to stop you Ryan from suing Les because he pissed you off?

    He hasn’t, so it’s not an issue.

    The question isn’t if you think Les is going to sue you, the question is, what’s to stop you from suing Les is you wanted to based off the precedence set by this Westboro case. Granted I think the Westboro folk will win an appeal, but if there was no appeal granted…

    Webs: Or better yet, what’s to stop Bush from suing antiwar peace protesters?

    That’s pretty far afield, Webs

    Why? The Westboro folk were essentially sued because they protested. What’s to stop others from doing the same?

    Antiwar protesters are expressing opinions based on percieved fact

    Aren’t the Westboro folk doing the same?

    I understand that the government office can’t sue, but Bush himself can once out of office. All I’m really saying is that allowing this Father of the soldier to win this case easily opens the floodgates for more lawsuits to follow.

    Yes, and that got John Kerry really far, didn’t it? John Kerry could sue for that, if he wanted to; he doesn’t for his own reasons. But the fact is, it may have ended up costing us all in the long run,

    I am not a politician so what happens in my life and in a politician’s life is different. If I were in politics and were a candidate for a political seat, I would likely take a stronger stance at a swiftboat campaign against me.

    But the risk of such a thing happening to me is pretty low, probably closer to never happening than maybe. And with the connections I have made with friends and colleagues, I just don’t place a high impact on the event if it occurred.

    and you seem to go about saying what people say of one another has no lasting effect!

    No, I do think it has a lasting effect. But things people say about me are not going to have as big of a lasting impact as say with John Kerry. Mainly because my name isn’t mentioned in some form of print everyday as it is with John Kerry.

    So I just don’t worry about it as much. It’s a simple risk calculation. As I said above, I find the risk and impact to be low, so whether the cost is high or not, I don’t see the need to get worked up about it. I would rather spend my time and focus my energy on my career and my fiance and our upcoming marriage.

  12. No worries, I’m just fine. grin

    But that’s the problem, this is not a defamation case. Unless there is some article I am missing, below is what the case is about…

    The details of this case seem to change on me at a moment’s notice. Still, the merits of the case notwithstanding, the end judgment is still correct. I think there are all sorts of things wrong with this case, but the gist that an entity is being held accountable for things done and said. That’s the normal scope of a civil suit. What you think should be free speech in this case is not protected because it is non-factual in nature, and that’s a long-standing precedent from before anyone on this blog was born.

    The question isn’t if you think Les is going to sue you, the question is, what’s to stop you from suing Les is you wanted to based off the precedence set by this Westboro case. Granted I think the Westboro folk will win an appeal, but if there was no appeal granted…

    I understood the question. I was making the point that I’m rarely so offended by what people say. The only reason I would ever sue someone over what he or she says is that what was said has a negative impact on my public reputation, and there is no other recourse for my defense. If Les is pissing me off like that, then I would have had to have done something damn stupid to get it, so I’d likely just take the hit, unless he went too far.

    Believe me, I already understand the fact that sometimes the best response to a comment is to just ignore it. Perhaps that is what should have been done in this case; that it wasn’t is immaterial.

    Why? The Westboro folk were essentially sued because they protested. What’s to stop others from doing the same?

    They aren’t even in the same ballpark. One is a religious protest using non-factual information with the intent to harm and is not a genuine “other side” to a debate. The key here is the intent to do harm. It’s one thing to damage a President’s reputation by shedding light on facts or ridiculing his policies. It’s quite another to say he deserves to die and should be replaced by one of a select few; that way lies sedition and it is therefore not protected speech. It’s a fine line, but we need it to maintain public order. I envy your optimistic view of our society, but I am far too pragmatic to accept it.

    Aren’t the Westboro folk doing the same?

    No, they aren’t. As I said, it’s a very fine line. Judicial tests exist to find that line. I do not know all those tests by heart, but they are all very stringent and involve the party’s intent to do harm or to present non-factual information in a deceptive manner.

    You might have noticed some very strict language on the cereal box this morning (if you eat cereal or even breakfast), by the way. Companies which are required to present nutritional information on their products have to do so within very strict boundaries, mainly concerning the factual accuracy of the information presented. But they can still try to deceive you with the facts and there’s not a thing you can do about it, no matter how it offends you (short of new legislation). It’s the same concept here – in order to maintain an orderly society, there must be certain limitations on free speech. Newspapers are restricted in the same way, as are radio broadcasts and television. We need these limitations, Webs.

    I am not a politician so what happens in my life and in a politician’s life is different. If I were in politics and were a candidate for a political seat, I would likely take a stronger stance at a swiftboat campaign against me.

    Different, yes. But not so different that you shouldn’t be concerned, I think. Because we live in such a free country, all you have to do is imagine yourself in that position – because it is possible, you should be concerned.

    No, I do think it has a lasting effect. But things people say about me are not going to have as big of a lasting impact as say with John Kerry. Mainly because my name isn’t mentioned in some form of print everyday as it is with John Kerry.

    Then all you have to do is imagine someone you know who has a grudge against you going to the newspaper with some false story that you rape babies. Say the fact checker is piss-poor and you make the front page as a sex-crazed freak. (And don’t laugh – similar things have happened to people before.) Do you think there won’t be some lasting effect? Seriously?

    Webs, you are thinking too small for this problem. The very reason we have protected speech is because there are forms that should not be protected an an orderly society. I agree with you completely that preserving our right to free speech should be a top concern, but this case simply does not present that problem.

    Simply put, if the circumstances of the case are ignored and the facts presented within are assumed to be correct, the decision is also correct by a very large precedent. There is nothing at all new about this case concerning free speech. The problem is, the facts and circumstances of this case are not as represented, so the problem lies with the due process of the suit. Also, there is the matter that AppalachianLady raised: the reputation of the deceased cannot possibly be harmed, legally speaking.

    As I said before, due process seems a much, much larger concern here.

  13. These losers Westboro < asshats were stopped from entering Canada

    Your site is awesome alot of work here well done SEB !!!

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