Phelps Slammed With Huge Damage Award

Phelps Slammed With Huge Damage Award

BALTIMORE (AP) – A federal jury on Wednesday awarded the father of a fallen Marine $2.9 million in compensatory damages after finding an anti-gay Kansas church and three of its leaders liable for invasion of privacy and intent to inflict emotional distress for picketing the Marine’s funeral in 2006. The jury was to begin deliberating the size of punitive damages after receiving further instructions, although U.S. District Judge Richard Bennett noted the size of the compensatory award “far exceeds the net worth of the defendants,” according to financial statements filed with the court.

Hopefully this will put these bigots out of business for good.

Comments (15 comments)

Spanish Inquisitor / October 31st, 2007, 3:24 pm / #1

I love it when the legal system works. They’ll never collect, but they can use it to seriously crimp their style.

First thing – execute on Freddie’s ten gallon hat. ;)

BlackSun / November 4th, 2007, 12:46 pm / #2

Spanish Inquisitor, now the award is up to $10.9 million. I hope they can never afford to even buy sign making materials again.

Carol / November 4th, 2007, 6:22 pm / #3

While I think that the Phelps family deserves to be ridiculed, I cannot support anything that undermines America’s freedom of speech. Yes, their speech is hateful. Yes, they offend people. However, freedom of speech protects unpopular speech – popular speech needs no protection. The best defense against offensive speech is to speak in opposition.

BlackSun / November 4th, 2007, 6:49 pm / #4


Free speech has never been recognized to be unlimited. Here are just a few examples of perfectly sensible limitations:

-“Fire” in a crowded theater
-Racial hate speech
-Making threats
-Lying to a peace officer or under oath

Unpopular speech should be protected in a political context if it can be shown to be relevant to the political process. But we can and should outlaw things like skinhead or KKK rallies under hate-crime laws.

The Phelps’ behavior has clearly been as despicable and egregious as any anti-black or anti-semitic groups. They have been rightly slapped down.

Members of the armed forces and their families have the right to hold their funerals in peace.

Carol / November 4th, 2007, 7:42 pm / #5

Black Sun,

-”Fire” in a crowded theater: Only if there’s no fire. In that case, one might cause a stampede, which could result in physical injury, whereas no injuries would result from there not being a fire.
-Racial hate speech: I hate it, but I defend it because it’s just speech, and can be answered with more speech.
-Making threats: Threats may indicate that actions are to follow, so I see this as different than voicing an opinion.
-Lying to a peace officer or under oath: Lying under oath is not the same as voicing an opinion.
-Harassment: Please define.

Who was it who wrote (and I paraphrase), “He who gives up liberty for safety will surely have neither?” The same is true for freedom of speech, the aim of which is to protect unpopular speech (again, popular speech needs no protection). Where do we draw the line? Who gets to draw the line? I hate to say it, but I don’t trust anyone with that kind of power.

BlackSun / November 5th, 2007, 12:27 am / #6


I hear what you are saying, but this was a civil damages award, not a criminal verdict.

Technically, the Phelps are still free to say what they want, they (thankfully) just won’t be able to have any assets for pretty much the rest of their lives.

I don’t understand why anyone would defend these morons. Some conduct is beyond redemption–and the Phelps certainly qualify. If there were any legitimate political purpose to their speech, I might be inclined to agree with you. But there isn’t these people are there for one reason and one reason alone: to cause needless pain and suffering for others.

By targeting funerals, what they are doing is clearly harassment, which can already draw an injunction under current law.

As far as the other categories are concerned, are you really serious about protecting racial hate speech?

Anyway, you’re entitled to your opinion, but I don’t think most people will be shedding any tears for these vile and repugnant assholes. They can rot.

David / November 5th, 2007, 6:28 am / #7

As sad as it is, I’m sure these clowns will find a way to push on through the lawsuit and continue as before. “Doin’ God’s work” transcends financial resources. Fucking nuts.

valhar2000 / November 5th, 2007, 9:00 am / #8


I am also unconfortable with the idea of forbididng hate speech, and even slightly so with this rulling (I would have to know just what they did and how, to be confortable).

I do think that harrasment should be punished, and that hate speech commonly constitutes harrasment, but only in those cases should it be forbidden, in my view.

Similarly, it seems to me that the Phelps kooks should be punished for harrasment, and not for saying hateful things.

BlackSun / November 5th, 2007, 3:06 pm / #9


The original cause of action was “invasion of privacy and intent to inflict emotional distress.” More related to harassment than speech.

I wonder how differently people would react if these misanthropes were targeting weddings instead of funerals?

Carol / November 6th, 2007, 8:30 pm / #10


“I don’t understand why anyone would defend these morons.”
– I’m not defending them. I’m defending freedom of speech. The right of everyone to voice their opinion, regardless of its popularity. That’s what freedom of speech is. Popular speech needs no protection.

“If there were any legitimate political purpose to their speech, I might be inclined to agree with you.”

– Again, you’re not getting it. Who gets to decide what’s “legitimate” and what’s not? I don’t want to give that kind of power to anyone.

“As far as the other categories are concerned, are you really serious about protecting racial hate speech?”

I am for protecting freedom of speech. I am for protecting everyone’s right to voice their opinion. If you don’t like what someone says, you are free to use your freedom of speech to explain why you think they’re wrong. Ignoring hateful ideas doesn’t make them go away, but it does allow such ideas to go unchallenged.

“…I don’t think most people will be shedding any tears for these vile and repugnant assholes.”

I seriously hope you’re not so ignorant as to think that I’m “shedding any tears” for them. My position with regard to this issue is about the Constitutional right to freedom of speech, not the Phelps family.

BlackSun / November 6th, 2007, 8:44 pm / #11


OK, back to first principles: Is there any speech you would consider hate-speech? Or can anyone say anything to anyone at any time?

How about: “God hates blacks” or “God hates Jews” or “God created blacks to be slaves” How about the N-word?

Does anything cross the threshold that you think should be banned? Or should people be able to say those kinds of vile things with impunity?

How about if the KKK wanted to go to inner city schools and picket? What about if they went to a black wedding in progress and chanted outside that “n—–ers must die” Would you then think it was OK if black gang members killed them where they stood? At what point does a person bear responsibility for the consequences of their hate-speech?

By advocating blanket free-speech protections, you are ignoring a host of practical concerns. It is glib to say “only unpopular speech needs protection.” This is obvious. But it doesn’t encompass the whole picture.

Constitutional freedom of speech was largely about freedom to criticize the government. Your definition ignores libel, slander and gross hate-speech to other citizens. If you can persuade me that there is a practical application that takes these complexities into account, I might come around to your point of view. But as far as I can tell, there are certain types of speech which must be roundly condemned or you don’t have much of a civil society.

Carol / November 6th, 2007, 9:03 pm / #12


“… there are certain types of speech which must be roundly condemned…”

I agree. The only difference seems to be that I think that such speech should be condemned with more speech.

I think that you and I will simply have to agree to disagree on this subject.

I don’t like the idea of anyone disrupting any gathering simply to spout hate. I’m not sure what the solution is, but limiting the right of the people to voice their opinions is dangerous. Again, who gets to decide what is and is not acceptable? As much as I abhor hateful anything, I love freedom. That means that we are free to ridicule anyone who says hateful things.

By the way, as I understand it, libel and slander have nothing to do with opinons, but lies. If I say I think someone’s a thief, that’s not the same thing as saying that that person is a thief. A small difference, perhaps, but a difference, nonetheless.

BlackSun / November 7th, 2007, 11:42 am / #13


I don’t like the idea of anyone disrupting any gathering simply to spout hate. I’m not sure what the solution is, but limiting the right of the people to voice their opinions is dangerous.

Restating for the record: The Phelps were sued for repeated and egregious misconduct (picketing soldiers funerals) which only peripherally involved their speech. Mostly, they were harassing people and acting in a wildly inappropriate context. If they had kept to themselves and limited their speech to talk shows, the internet and their own church, they would have had no problems.

So we can see that they were civilly sanctioned for their conduct, not their speech (which had gone unpunished for at least a decade). This seems to clinch the argument that their rights of free-speech have indeed not been infringed.

But nevertheless, I still think anti hate-speech laws are needed in any kind of pluralistic society. Intelligent people understand that you speak about issues–you don’t slur groups of people. And use discretion when choosing your venues. If the Phelps had done that, they would never have ended up in court.

Black Sun Journal » Review: Fall from Grace / December 5th, 2007, 11:12 am / #14

[…] I’ve come down hard against the Phelps family on this issue. (previous post) I think we can preserve the principle of free-speech without permitting such blatant hatred and incendiary conduct to occur. As far as I’m concerned, Westboro Baptist repeatedly picketing funerals (over 22,000 demonstrations in 15 years) is no different than Nazi skinheads repeatedly picketing synagogues. The ACLU is wrong on this one, it’s not free-speech, it is harassment and should not be tolerated. […]

Frost / August 8th, 2008, 8:51 am / #15

These scum are coming to Winnipeg today to protest at a funeral of a poor bus rider that was beheaded by some nut job. So far over 300 people have agreed to go to the funeral and stand in front of these people so they can’t be seen by the poor family and friends of the young man.
These Phelps people truely need to be locked up so they can’t bother anyone else.

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