Jury Awards Father $11M in Funeral Case
Added: Wed, 31 Oct 2007 00:00:00 UTC
Thanks to Stephen M. Weeks for the link.
By ALEX DOMINGUEZ, Associated Press Writer
BALTIMORE - A grieving father won a nearly $11 million verdict Wednesday against a fundamentalist Kansas church that pickets military funerals out of a belief that the war in Iraq is a punishment for the nation's tolerance of homosexuality.
Albert Snyder of York, Pa., sued the Westboro Baptist Church for unspecified damages after members demonstrated at the March 2006 funeral of his son, Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder, who was killed in Iraq.
The federal jury first awarded $2.9 million in compensatory damages. It returned in the afternoon with its decision to award $6 million in punitive damages for invasion of privacy and $2 million for causing emotional distress.
Snyder's attorney, Craig Trebilcock, had urged jurors to determine an amount "that says don't do this in Maryland again. Do not bring your circus of hate to Maryland again."
The defense said it planned to appeal, and one of the church's leaders, Shirley Phelps-Roper, said the members would continue to picket military funerals.
"Absolutely; don't you understand this was an act in futility?" Phelps-Roper said.
Church members routinely picket funerals of military personnel killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, carrying signs such as "Thank God for dead soldiers" and "God hates fags."
Snyder claimed the protests intruded upon what should have been a private ceremony and sullied his memory of the event.
The church members testified they are following their religious beliefs by spreading the message that soldiers are dying because the nation is too tolerant of homosexuality.
Their attorneys maintained in closing arguments Tuesday that the burial was a public event and that even abhorrent points of view are protected by the First Amendment, which guarantees freedom of speech and religion.
A number of states have passed laws regarding funeral protests, and Congress has passed a law prohibiting such protests at federal cemeteries. But the Maryland lawsuit is believed to be the first filed by the family of a fallen serviceman.
The church and three of its leaders _ Fred Phelps and his two daughters, Phelps-Roper and Rebekah Phelps-Davis, 46 _ were found liable for invasion of privacy and intent to inflict emotional distress.
The group is confident the award will be overturned on appeal, Phelps said
"Oh, it will take about five minutes to get that thing reversed," he said.
Earlier, church members staged a demonstration outside the federal courthouse. Phelps held a sign reading "God is your enemy," while Phelps-Roper stood on an American flag and carried a sign that read "God hates fag enablers." Members of the group sang "God Hates America" to the tune of "God Bless America."
Snyder sobbed when he heard the verdict, while members of the church greeted the news with tightlipped smiles.
It was unclear whether the plaintiffs would be able to collect the damages awarded.
Before the jury began deliberating the size of punitive damages, U.S. District Judge Richard Bennett noted that the size of the compensatory award "far exceeds the net worth of the defendants," according to financial statements filed with the court.
Defense lawyer Jonathan Katz said the church has about 75 members and is funded by tithing.
The defense attorney said that the assets of the church and the three defendants are less than a million dollars and that the compensatory award is about three times the defendants' net worth, mainly in homes, cars and retirement accounts.
One of Snyder's attorneys, Sean Summers, said he would tirelessly seek payment of the award.
"We will chase them forever if it takes that long," Summers said.
- - Maryam Namazie Comments
Letter to Trevor Phillips, Chair of Equality and Human Rights Commission
- - We The People Comments
Enforce federal 501(c)(3) regulations by removing the tax-exempt status from churches that engage in political activity.
Brendan O'Neill - The Telegraph Comments
The rebranding of circumcision as 'child abuse' echoes the ugly anti-Semitism of medieval Europe
- - MedicalXpress Comments
German court rules religious circumcision on boys an assault
Katherine Stewart - The Guardian Comments
The US Conference of Catholic Bishops in session in Atlanta, Georgia, earlier this month. Photograph: Tami Chappell/Reuters
Jimmy Wales - Change.org & The... Comments
.@ukhomeoffice: Stop the extradition of Richard O'Dwyer to the USA #SaveRichard
MORE BY AP
AP - CBC News Comments
A Mississippi couple says the church where they planned to get married turned them away because they are black.
AP - CBC News Comments
The pioneering work of Abdus Salam, Pakistan's only Nobel laureate, helped lead to the apparent discovery of the subatomic Higgs boson, or "God particle," last week, but the late physicist is no hero at home, where his name has been stricken from school textbooks.
AP - New York Times Comments
Jehovah's Witness organization found responsible for paying 40% of damages awarded to abuse victim
AP - CBC News 81 Comments
Richard Leakey predicts skepticism over evolution will soon be history.