The Fred Phelps Depravity
Free Speech - A Freedom Not Worth the Cost
[Most of the information on this page came from Wikipedia]
United States Marine Lance Corporal Matthew Snyder’s funeral was disrupted by ugly scenes outside the cemetery where his family were gathered in mourning to pay their last respects to a young man killed in an unfortunate accident shortly after he arrived in Iraq.
What should have been a solemn assembly was interrupted by the unconscionable actions of Pastor Fred Phelps and members of his infamous Westboro Baptist Church that picket the Snyder interment carrying signs that said "You're in Hell" and "God hates you."
Phelps and his hateful congregation take every opportunity to demonstrate at military funerals because their twisted logic has decided that serving in the US Military is tantamount to condoning homosexuality.
The incongruous thing is that Phelps, a former lawyer, knows that his repulsive demonstrations, hateful signs, and callous shouts at what are meant to be solemn and mournful occasions are protected under the First Amendment of the United States of America’s Constitution.
What is not protected under the Constitution are the rights of mourners to mourn and pay their final respects as their loved ones are laid to rest without having to run the gauntlet of Phelps’ hateful horde. That the rights of Phelps trump the rights of families and friends of the dead is as much a mystery to sane people as are the vile machinations of Phelps’ distorted mind.
Forty-eight states and the District of Columbia are standing with the family of fallen Marine Snyder in a pending U.S. Supreme Court case that could decide the constitutionality of laws restricting protests at private family funerals. Sane and sensible laws are required because to date Phelps’ merciless marauders have disrupted more than 600 funerals of US military personnel.
Lance Cpl. Snyder was deployed to Iraq in 2006 and lost his life a month later in an mishap. His funeral in Maryland was disrupted by the irreverent Fred W. Phelps and his lunatic followers yelling hate-filled epithets including assertions that America's military is inherently evil because it defends a country, including Fred Phelps and his gullible followers, that legally tolerates homosexuality.
The family of Lance-Corporal Snyder's sued Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church, but lost because the court ruled that the Phelps terrorists were exercising their constitutionally guaranteed right to free speech.
Now, all but two state attorneys general have signed a "friend of the court" brief arguing the First Amendment should not apply to certain forms of "intrusive and harassing" speech.
"Funeral goers are a captive audience and they are engaged in a deeply personal and private mourning process," said Kansas Attorney General Steve Six, who drafted the brief. "The Constitution does not give the respondent the right to hijack solemn proceedings such as funerals in order to spread their hateful ideas."
Phelps, has staged loud protests with members of his Westboro Baptist Church at military funerals around the country. He argues his signs, bearing messages such as are protected forms of speech.
Court observers called the near-universal state support for Snyder and funeral protest laws "exceptional" and say their brief will likely affect the justices when they finally weigh the case. Only Maine and Virginia have withheld support for the "amicus curiae" brief.
But Phelps' supporters, including his daughter Megan Phelps, say the states' brief does not change the facts of the case or weaken their constitutional argument.
"The only way you can criminalize standing peacefully on a public sidewalk with Scriptural concepts on hotly-debated public issues is to repeal the 1st Amendment," said Phelps via Twitter. "They're willing to sacrifice the freedoms they claim Matt Snyder fought for on the altar of shutting up our message," she tweeted. "This opposition epitomizes why the 1st Amend. was passed: corrupt gov't trying to shut up religious messages they hate."
In a separate show of support for Snyder Friday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, filed a "friend of the court" brief joined by 42 Senators.
Dozens of Americans, even FOX's Bill O'Reily are coming to the defense of a Maryland man whose son was killed in Iraq. They are offering to pay his legal bills after a court ordered him to pay the very protestors who disrupted his son's funeral.
This alleged Christians have outraged families by disrupting over 600 military funerals that should be regarded as a solemn funerals. When the family, gathered to honour Matthew's legacy, there were some very loud and indecent protestors. They positioned themselves about thirty feet from the main entrance of the church and they held signs that said 'God hates you,' 'You're in hell,' and 'Semper fi fags,' said Al ,Matthew's father. "It was just a nightmare."
Father Snyder adds, “The next day in Colorado the Westboro Baptist Church group from Kansas, who are mostly Phelps’ family members, interrupted another soldier's funeral with their indecent and callous shouts and signs. ‘You sent him to hell with your hell-bound ideology!’ yelled one. I mean, how many times do you have to say God hates America before you got the message out?”
Phelps does not feel any sympathy for those who are mourning. “They think I can't preach at times like this? I think I can preach at times like this.” He also claims that the families are partly to blame for their relatives being dead.
A group of veterans and motorcycle riders, the Patriot Guard, try to shield families from the protestors who claim they are expressing their first amendment rights.
“I find it insulting to all the other soldiers that have died,” says Al. "I find it insulting to the families. I find it insulting to the military and to the veterans...To have a group of eighty people destroy [the funeral] and mock it the way they are, it's a crime.”
So he sued. But lost on appeal. And in one of the strangest twists in this story, Snyder has been ordered to pay court costs totalling more than $16,000 to the very people who disrupted his son's funeral. The church says it will use the money to protest other funerals.
“I think this one kind of hit harder than any of them," says Al. To tell me that I have to pay them money so they can do this to more military funerals. That's what hurts the most.”
The Supreme Court will now decide if this is protected speech or emotional distress of a grieving family.
Fred Waldron Phelps, Sr. (born November 13, 1929) is an American pastor who is the founder of the Westboro Baptist Church (WBC), an independent Baptist church based in Topeka, Kansas, which is notorious for its anti-gay protests, claiming that most natural disasters and terrorist attacks are God's punishment for a nation that legally accepts homosexuality.
The church is monitored as a hate group by the Anti-Defamation League and Southern Poverty Law Centre. Phelps is a disbarred lawyer, founder of the Phelps Chartered law firm, a past civil rights activist in Kansas, and a Democrat who has five times been a candidate for political office in Kansas Democratic Party primaries. He and his daughter, Shirley Phelps-Roper, are banned from entering the United Kingdom.
Phelps and his followers picket various events, but especially military funerals, gay pride gatherings, high-profile political gatherings, performances of The Laramie Project, and even Christian gatherings and concerts with which he has no affiliation, arguing it is their sacred duty to warn others of God's anger.
When criticized, Phelps' followers say they are protected in doing so by the First Amendment. In response to Phelps' protests at military funerals, President George W. Bush signed the Respect for America's Fallen Heroes Act into law in May 2006, and, in April 2007, Kansas governor Kathleen Sebelius signed into law a bill establishing a 150-foot no-picketing buffer zone around funerals. Some decent people think it should be at least a quarter of a mile.
He is known for the slogans that he and his ministry use against people he deems sinful, including "God Hates Fags", "Thank God for Dead Soldiers", "America Is Doomed", "Priests Rape Boys", and "God Hates Jews".
Phelps claims that God will punish homosexuals as well as various public figures such as Bill O'Reilly, Coretta Scott King, Ronald Reagan, Howard Dean, and anyone else whom his church considers “fag-enablers.” His church is built around a core of anti-homosexual theology, with many of their activities stemming from the slogan “God hates fags,” which is also the name of the group's main website. Gay rights activists, as well as Christians of every denomination, have denounced him as a producer of anti-gay propaganda and violence-inspiring hate speech.
In 1947, Phelps enrolled as a student at Bob Jones University, but he abandoned his studies after only three semesters. He then attended two semesters at the Prairie Bible Institute. In 1951, he earned a two-year degree from John Muir College. While at John Muir, Phelps' preached on campus, attacking "sins committed on campus by students and teachers ... promiscuous petting ... evil language ... profanity ... cheating ... teachers' filthy jokes in classrooms ... [and] pandering to the lusts of the flesh", was written about in Time magazine.
Phelps earned a law degree from Washburn University in 1962, and founded the Phelps Chartered law firm in 1964. The first notable cases were related to civil rights. “I systematically brought down the Jim Crow laws of this town,” he says.
Phelps' daughter said, “We took on the Jim Crow establishment, and Kansas did not take that sitting down. They used to shoot our car windows out, screaming we were nigger lovers, and that the Phelps law firm made up one-third of the state's federal docket of civil rights cases.”
Phelps took cases on behalf of African American clients alleging racial discrimination by school systems, and a predominantly black American Legion post which had been raided by police, alleging racially-based police abuse. Phelps’ law firm obtained settlements for some clients.
Phelps also sued then-President Ronald Reagan over Reagan's appointment of a U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, alleging this violated separation of church and state. The case was dismissed by the U.S. district court. Phelps' law firm, staffed by himself and family members also represented non-white Kansans in discrimination actions against Kansas Power and Light, Southwestern Bell, and the Topeka City Attorney, and represented two female professors alleging discrimination in Kansas universities.
In the 1980s, Phelps received awards from the Greater Kansas City Chapter of Blacks in Government and the Bonner Springs branch of the NAACP, for his work on behalf of black clients. Phelps Chartered also won one of the first reverse discrimination cases.
A formal complaint was filed against Phelps on November 8, 1977, by the Kansas State Board of Law Examiners for his conduct during a lawsuit against a court reporter named Carolene Brady. Brady had failed to have a court transcript ready for Phelps on the day he asked for it; though it did not affect the outcome of the case for which Phelps had requested the transcript, Phelps still requested $22,000 in damages from her. In the ensuing trial, Phelps called Brady to the stand, declared her a hostile witness, and then cross-examined her for nearly a week, during which he accused her of being a "slut," tried to introduce testimony from former boyfriends whom Phelps wanted to subpœna, and accused her of a variety of perverse sexual acts, ultimately reducing her to tears on the stand. Phelps lost the case; according to the Kansas Supreme Court:
The trial became an exhibition of a personal vendetta by Phelps against Carolene Brady. His examination was replete with repetition, badgering, innuendo, belligerence, irrelevant and immaterial matter, evidencing only a desire to hurt and destroy the defendant. The jury verdict didn't stop the onslaught of Phelps. He was not satisfied with the hurt, pain, and damage he had visited on Carolene Brady.
In an appeal, Phelps prepared affidavits swearing to the court that he had eight witnesses whose testimony would convince the court to rule in his favour. Brady, in turn, obtained sworn, signed affidavits from the eight people in question, all of whom said that Phelps had never contacted them and that they had no reason to testify against Brady. Phelps had committed perjury. That is, he lied while maintaining that hje was a paragon of virtue.
On July 20, 1979, Phelps was permanently disbarred from practicing law in the state of Kansas, though he continued to practice in the Federal courts.
In 1985, nine Federal judges filed a disciplinary complaint against Phelps and five of his children, alleging false accusations against the judges. In 1989, the complaint was settled; Phelps agreed to stop practicing law in Federal court permanently, and two of his children were suspended for periods of six months and one year.
All of Phelps’ actions were in conjunction with the congregation of Westboro Baptist Church; see Westboro's notable activities. In 2001, Phelps estimated that the WBC had held 40 pickets a week for the previous 10 years.
Phelps describes himself as an old school Baptist, and states that he holds to all five points of Calvinism. Phelps particularly highlights John Calvin's doctrine of unconditional election, the belief that God has elected certain people for salvation before birth, and limited atonement, the belief that Christ only died for the elect, and condemns those who believe otherwise.
Phelps views Arminianism (particularly the views of the Methodist theologian William Munsey) as a "worse blasphemy and heresy than that heard in all filthy Saturday night fag bars in the aggregate in the world.” In addition to John Calvin, Phelps admires Martin Luther, Bob Jones, Sr, John Gill, and has stated that “What this country needs is 50 Jonathan Edwardses turned loose in it.” Fred Phelps particularly holds to equal ultimacy, believing that “God Almighty makes some willing and he leads others into sin,” although Phelps strenuously denies he is a hyper-Calvinist.
Phelps is against common practices like Sunday school meetings, Bible colleges and seminaries, and multi-denominational crusades, although he attended Bob Jones University and worked with Billy Graham in his Los Angeles Crusade before Graham changed his views on a literal Hell and salvation outside of Jesus Christ.
Phelps now considers Graham the greatest false prophet since Balaam, and also condemns mega-church leaders such as Robert Schuller and Jerry Falwell, and all Roman Catholics. Many other Calvinists, such as James White, do not acknowledge Phelps, and regard his church as a cult.
Two of his sons, Mark and Nate, allege that their father is a child abuser who repeatedly beat them with a leather strap and an axe handle. They describe Westboro Baptist Church as a cult that elevates Phelps to demigod status, and allows him to wield absolute control over his family and congregants.
They allege that Phelps's church provides structure for the congregants' enslavement and Phelps' delusion that he is the only righteous man on Earth. In 1995, Mark Phelps wrote a letter to the people of Topeka to this effect; it was published in the Topeka Capital-Journal. The children's claim is partially backed up by B.H. McAllister, the Baptist minister who ordained Phelps. McAllister said in a 1993 interview that Phelps developed a delusion wherein he was one of the few people on Earth worthy of God's grace and that everyone else in the world was going to Hell, and that salvation or damnation could be directly obtained by either aligning with or opposing him.
In 2006, Phelps still maintained this belief. Phelps and his family picket approximately six locations every day, including many in Topeka and some events farther afield. On Sundays, up to 15 churches may receive pickets. By their own count, WBC has conducted over 30,000 pickets, in all 50 states, in over 500 cities and towns. Their travel budget exceeds $200,000 annually.
Nate has alleged that his father's violence toward his mother and his family was due to an addiction to amphetamines and barbiturates, which Phelps used to help meet the demands of law school. The stress of schoolwork, combined with the difficulties faced by the simultaneous use of uppers and downers, heightened Phelps' "quick, violent, and indiscriminate" temper.
Many of Westboro's pickets revolve around the play The Laramie Project; Phelps says he consistently sends his followers across the country to picket every performance he finds out about. The play documents the reaction of the people of Laramie, Wyoming, to the murder of Matthew Shepard.
Phelps is a character in the play and is portrayed adversely. When the play was made into a film by HBO, Phelps and the WBC travelled to New York City to picket the HBO home offices with signs reading “United You'll Fall.” Said Phelps:
“The Laramie Project is a tawdry bit of banal fag melodrama — sordid, cheap, unaffecting, drearily predictable — without the least artistic or literary merit or redeeming social value. Indeed, its only purpose is to promote sinful, soul-damning sodomy by playing on the sick, maudlin emotions of doomed, godless America and thereby to recruit ill-bred teenagers to lives of sin, shame, disease, death and hell.”
Phelps' stated political views and activities are primarily driven by his view that the United States is "a sodomite nation of flag-worshiping idolators."
In the movie Hatemongers, members of the Westboro Baptist Church claim their children were being "accosted" by homosexuals in Gage Park, about half-a-mile from the Phelps' home. Shirley Phelps-Roper claims that in the late 1980s Fred Phelps even witnessed a homosexual attempting to lure her then five-year-old son Joshua into some shrubbery. After several complaints to the local government about the large amount of homosexual sex occurring in the park, with no resulting action, the Phelps put up signs warning of homosexual activity. This resulted in much negative attention towards the family.
When the Phelps called on local churches to speak against the activity in Gage Park, the churches also lashed against the Phelps family, which led to his own family protesting homosexuality on a regular basis.
In 2005, Phelps and his family held a signature drive to bring about a vote to repeal a law that protected homosexuals from workplace discrimination; they collected over 6,000 signatures, enough to bring the measure to a vote. In the aftermath of the election, 64 individuals who'd signed the petition came forward to state that Phelps' family had lied to them about what they were signing, and asked that their names be removed.
Also in 2005, Phelps' granddaughter Jael was an unsuccessful candidate for Topeka's City Council; she was seeking to replace Tiffany Muller, the first openly gay member of the Topeka City Council.
Phelps was cited by the Anti-Defamation League for his numerous anti-Semitic comments. On General Wesley Clark and John Kerry (of Jewish descent): “His Christ-rejecting, God-hating Jew blood bubbled to the surface. Yes, like his boss [John] Kerry, Clark is a Jew... That these two turds are Jews would not matter — except when they ask for supreme political power and spit in the Face of God, pushing for same-sex marriage, threatening to bring down God's wrath on us as on Sodom — then some inquiries are in order. Beware! ‘Jews killed the Lord Jesus, and their own prophets, and have persecuted us; and they please not God, and are contrary to all men; forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they might be saved, to fill up their sins always; for the wrath is come upon them to the uttermost. 1 Thess. 2:14.
“Apostate fags and Jews certain to bring God's wrath. Homosexuals and Jews dominated Nazi Germany... just as they now dominate this doomed U.S.A... The Jews now wander the earth despised, smitten with moral and spiritual blindness by a divine judicial stroke... And God has smitten Jews with a certain unique madness, whereby they are an astonishment of heart, a proverb, and a byword (the butt of jokes and ridicule) among all peoples whither the Lord has driven and scattered them... Jews, thus perverted, out of all proportion to their numbers energize the militant sodomite agenda... The American Jews are the real Nazis (misusers and abusers of governmental power) who hate God and the rule of law.”
Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church claim that the Roman Catholic Church is a "fag church", accuse Catholics of being idolators, and states that a large part of the Catholic priesthood are either active homosexuals, active pedophiles, or both.
On April 3, 2005, the day after the death Pope John Paul II, Phelps dedicated a service to celebrating the longtime pontiff's death. In his sermon, Phelps said: “You don't think he split Hell wide open? We're the only one's [sic] telling the truth about that son of a bitch.”
That day, a photo of John Paul II also appeared on Westboro Baptist Church's website, godhatesfags.com website. It was altered to depict the pope with horns emanating from his forehead. A caption read: “Deal with it, you idolatrous morons! The pope is in Hell. Westboro Baptist Church members are competent expert witnesses, having picketed hundreds of Catholic churches in all fifty states over the past fourteen years. We will bear witness on Judgment Day: Catholics are the meanest, most violent people on Earth, and their churches are filled with filthy fag priests. On John Paul II's watch, the Catholic Church became the CHURCH OF THE HOLY PEDOPHILES and sodomite feces and semen replaced bread and wine.” The Westboro Baptist Church also maintains the priestsrapeboys.com website.
Phelps and the Westboro church run the website godhatessweden.com. Phelps has declared that the heavy Swedish losses in the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake, initially overestimated to be near 20,000, were God's punishment of Sweden for the promotion of homosexuality. In particular, Phelps criticized Sweden's prosecution of Åke Green. Phelps' website depicted a granite monument designed by himself that says that Green is a Christian martyr and Phelps announced plans to erect copies of the monument throughout the United States.
In response, Green said "I think it is appalling that people say things like that, it is extremely unpleasant," which led to Phelps taking down the monument.
In 2003 Phelps turned his attacks on Ireland. In a sermon preached on July 29, 2007, in which he returned to the topic, he told his congregation that he had launched a website godhatesireland.com to “expose Ireland as the Emerald (now Pink) Isle of the Sodomite Damned, –saturated with fags and dykes at every level of society and government.”
His sermon was in response to the Literary and Historical Society, a debating society in University College Dublin, which invited him to participate in a debate on homosexual adoption. The invitation was made in error, and was withdrawn within a few days. He told his congregation that in the past he had “... warned America about Ireland's sad, sick, sodomite culture and fag Irish Senator David Norris' case before the European Court of Human Rights. (Incidentally, the "Openly-Gay" Irish Senator Norris was represented before that Strasbourg European Court, by the famous Irish President, Mary Robinson.) We warned that WBC has had lots of experience with Ireland's militant sodomite citizenry, steeped for many decades in ignorant, blind, idolatrous Catholicism, belching out their vile fagspeak, slander, and blasphemy against God and His Word — cursing WBC members as guests on Dublin talk-radio shows. Remember, Martin Luther said Catholic churches, seminaries and monasteries are nothing but sodomite whorehouses filled with unnatural brute beasts and devils. We warned that the very leprechauns of Ireland are likely to be fags!”
Phelps' attack on former president Mary Robinson and Senator David Norris, both widely respected figures, drew ridicule in Ireland.
Fred Phelps refers to the United States as “A sodomite nation of flag-worshipping idolators.”
“Military funerals are pagan orgies of idolatrous blasphemy where they pray to the dunghill gods of Sodom and play taps to a fallen fool, ‘They shall not lament for him, saying, Ah my brother! or, Ah sister! they shall not lament for him, saying, Ah lord! or, Ah his glory! He shall be buried with the burial of an ass, drawn and cast forth beyond the gates of Jerusalem. Jer. 22:18&19.”
Phelps is critical of laws against hate speech pertaining to homosexuality as sin. Phelps often emphasizes hate speech laws in Sweden, resulting in the trial of Pastor Åke Green, and Canada, in his speeches. Phelps has used the term “homo-fascist” to describe countries with such laws.
Phelps has run in various Kansas Democratic Party primaries five times, but has never won. These included races for governor in 1990, 1994, and 1998, receiving about 15 percent of the vote in 1998. In the 1992 Democratic Party primary for U.S. Senate, Phelps received 31 percent of the vote. Phelps ran for mayor of Topeka in 1993 and 1997.
Phelps supported Al Gore in the 1988 Democratic Party primary election. In his 1984 Senate race, Gore opposed a "gay bill of rights" and stated that homosexuality was not something that “society should affirm.” Phelps has stated that he supported Gore because of these earlier comments. According to Phelps, members of the Westboro Baptist Church helped run Gore's 1988 campaign in Kansas. Phelps' son, Fred Phelps Jr., hosted a Gore fundraiser at his home in Topeka and was a Gore delegate to the 1988 Democratic National Convention. Gore spokesman Dag Vega declined to comment, saying “We are not dignifying those stories with a response.”
During the 1992 presidential campaign, Phelps protested Hillary Rodham Clinton during a campaign speech in support of the Clinton-Gore ticket at the University of Kansas on October 14, 1992. In Bill Clinton's second presidential campaign, Phelps and the Westboro church also opposed Clinton and Gore because of the administration's support for gay rights. The entire Westboro congregation picketed a 1997 inaugural ball, denouncing Gore as a “famous fag pimp.” In 1998, Westboro picketed the funeral of Gore's father, screaming vulgarities at Gore and telling him, “your dad's in Hell.”
In 2003, before the fall of Saddam Hussein during the Iraq War, Phelps wrote Saddam a letter praising his regime for being, in his opinion, “the only Muslim state that allows the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ to be freely and openly preached on the streets.” Furthermore, he stated that he would like to send a delegation to Baghdad to “preach the Gospel” for one week. Saddam granted permission, and a group of WBC congregants travelled to Iraq to protest against the U.S.
WBC members stood on the streets of Baghdad holding signs condemning both Bill and Hillary Clinton, as well as anal sex. After Saddam was executed in 2006, Phelps released a video commentary that stated that both Saddam and Gerald Ford (who had died the same week) were now in Hell.
Phelps was first arrested in 1951 and found guilty of misdemeanor battery after attacking a Pasadena police officer. He has since been arrested for assault, battery, threats, trespassing, disorderly conduct, contempt of court, and several other charges; each time, he (along with Westboro and its other members) has filed suit against the city, the police, and the arresting officers. Though he has been able to avoid prison time, he has been convicted more than once:
• 1994: Contempt of court
• 1994: Two counts of assault (reduced to disorderly conduct on appeal)
Phelps' 1995 conviction for assault and battery carried a five-year prison sentence, with a mandatory 18 months to be served before he became eligible for parole. Phelps fought to be allowed to remain free until his appeals process went through.
Days away from being arrested and sent to prison, a judge ruled that Phelps had been denied a speedy trial and that he was not required to serve any time.
Phelps has also claimed that his congregation, along with him, have been arrested in Canada for hate speech. This prompted the launch of another website, http://www.godhatescanada.com
He has also strongly opposed the legalization of same-sex marriage in Canada and Canada's Supreme Court.
On February 18, 2009, two days before the Westboro Baptist Church's first ever UK picket, the UK Home Office announced that Fred Phelps and Shirley Phelps-Roper would be refused entry and that “other [Westboro Baptist] church members could also be flagged and stopped if they tried to enter Britain.”
In May 2009 he and his daughter Shirley were placed on the Home Office's “name and shame” list of people who had been barred from entering the UK for "fostering hatred which might lead to inter-community violence.”
As previously stated, on March 10, 2006, WBC picketed the funeral of Marine Lance Corporal Matthew A. Snyder, who died after a vehicle rollover accident during combat in Iraq on March 3, 2006. On June 5, 2006, the Snyder family sued Fred Phelps, WBC, and unnamed others for defamation, invasion of privacy, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. On October 31, 2007, WBC, Fred Phelps and two of his daughters, Shirley Phelps-Roper and Rebekah Phelps-Davis, were found liable for invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
A federal jury awarded Snyder's father $2.9 million in compensatory damages, then later added a decision to award $6 million in punitive damages for invasion of privacy and an additional $2 million for causing emotional distress (A total of $10. 9 million). The organization said it wouldn't change its message because of the verdict.
The lawsuit named Albert Snyder, father of Matthew Snyder, as the plaintiff and Fred W. Phelps, Sr.; Westboro Baptist Church, Inc; Rebekah Phelps-Davis; and Shirley Phelps-Roper as defendants, alleging that they were responsible for publishing defamatory information about the Snyder family on the Internet, including statements that Albert and his wife had “raised [Matthew] for the devil” and taught him “to defy his Creator, to divorce, and to commit adultery.”
Other statements denounced them for raising their son as a Roman Catholic. Snyder further complained the defendants had intruded upon and staged protests at his son’s funeral. The claims of invasion of privacy and defamation arising from comments posted about Snyder on the Westboro website were dismissed on First Amendment grounds, but the case proceeded to trial on the remaining three counts.
Albert Snyder, the father of LCpl Matthew A. Snyder, testified: “They turned this funeral into a media circus and they wanted to hurt my family. They wanted their message heard and they didn't care who they stepped over. My son should have been buried with dignity, not with a bunch of clowns outside.”
In his instructions to the jury U.S. District Judge Richard Bennett stated that the First Amendment protection of free speech has limits, including vulgar, offensive and shocking statements, and that the jury must decide “whether the defendant's actions would be highly offensive to a reasonable person, whether they were extreme and outrageous and whether these actions were so offensive and shocking as to not be entitled to First Amendment protection.”
[In Chaplinsky v New Hampshire, a case in which personal slurs and obscene utterances by an individual were declared unworthy of First Amendment protection, due to the potential for violence resulting from their utterance.]
WBC sought a mistrial based on alleged prejudicial statements made by the judge and violations of the gag order by the plaintiff's attorney. An appeal was also sought by the WBC. WBC has said that it is thankful for the verdict.
On February 4, 2008, Bennett upheld the ruling but reduced the punitive damages from $8 million to $2.1 million. The total judgment then stood at $5 million. Court liens were ordered on church buildings and Phelps' law office in an attempt to ensure that the damages were paid.
An appeal by WBC was heard on September 24, 2009. The federal appeals court ruled in favour of Phelps and Westboro Baptist Church, stating that their picket near the funeral of LCpl Matthew A. Snyder is protected speech and did not violate the privacy of the service member's family, reversing the lower court's $5 million judgment. On March 30, 2010, the federal appeals court ordered Albert Snyder to pay the court costs for the Westboro Baptist Church, an amount totalling $16,510.
Political commentator Bill O'Reilly agreed on March 30 to cover the costs, pending appeal.
A writ of certiorari was granted on an appeal to the Supreme Court of the United States, so the case came before the court for review in October 2010.
Since the early 1990s, Phelps has targeted several individuals and groups in the public eye for criticism by the Westboro Baptist Church after their deaths. Prominent examples include President Ronald Reagan, Diana, Princess of Wales, Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist, National Football League star Reggie White, Sonny Bono, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, atheists, Islam and Muslims, murdered college student Matthew Shepard, the late children's television host Fred Rogers, the late Australian actor Heath Ledger, Jews, Catholics, Swedes, the Irish and US soldiers killed in Iraq.
He has also targeted the Joseph Estabrook Elementary School in Lexington, Massachusetts, centre of the David Parker controversy. In 2007 he stated that he would target the late Rev. Jerry Falwell's funeral.
Shirley Phelps-Roper, a daughter of Fred Phelps, has appeared on Fox News, defending the WBC and attacking homosexuality. She and her children have also appeared on the Howard Stern radio show to promote their agenda and church. However, every time they appear, they are the subjects of ridicule and taunting.
In a recent video sermon, Phelps targeted comedians Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, claiming that they are among the “scoffers and mockers” referred to in the Bible, and used them as evidence that we are in the “last of the Last Days.” He was particularly critical of Colbert's Emmy Awards show performance, in which Colbert, tongue-in-cheek, called the Hollywood audience “Godless sodomites.” He compared Colbert's comments to the “blaspheming comics” of Sodom and Gomorrah and referred to both Colbert and Stewart as “sacrilegious buffoons.”
Phelps' followers have repeatedly protested the University of Kansas School of Law's graduation ceremonies.
In August 2007, in the wake of the Minneapolis I-35W bridge collapse, Phelps and his congregation stated that they will protest at the funerals of the victims. In a statement, the church said that Minneapolis is the “land of the Sodomite damned.”
Phelps has recently targeted singer Lady Gaga, whom he considers a “proud whore.”
On May 24, 2006, the United States House and Senate passed the Respect for America's Fallen Heroes Act, which President George W. Bush signed five days later. The act bans protests within 300 feet of national cemeteries — which numbered 122 when the bill was signed—from an hour before a funeral to an hour after it. Violators face up to a $100,000 fine and up to a year in prison.
As of April 2006, at least 17 states have banned protests near funeral sites immediately before and after ceremonies, or are considering it. These are: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, which passed the law, and Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. Florida increased the penalty for disturbing military funerals, amending a previous ban on the disruption of lawful assembly.
These bans have been contested. Bart McQueary, having protested with Phelps on at least three occasions, filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging the constitutionality of Kentucky's funeral protest ban. On September 26, 2006, a district court agreed and entered an injunction prohibiting the ban from being enforced. In the opinion, the judge wrote:
“ Sections 5 (1) (b) and (c) restrict substantially more speech than that which would interfere with a funeral or that which would be so obtrusive that funeral participants could not avoid it. Accordingly, the provisions are not narrowly tailored to serve a significant government interest but are instead unconstitutionally overbroad.”
The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit in Missouri on behalf of Phelps and Westboro Baptist Church to overturn the ban on the picketing of soldier's funerals. The ACLU of Ohio also filed a similar lawsuit. WBC is listed as a "hate group" by the Southern Poverty Law Centre.
To counter the Phelps protests at funerals of soldiers, a group of motorcycle riders has formed the Patriot Guard Riders to provide a nonviolent, volunteer buffer between the protesters and mourners.
The Phelps family was the subject of the TV programme The Most Hated Family in America; presented on the BBC by Louis Theroux. In early 2007, Kevin Smith announced plans to produce a horror film entitled Red State featuring a religious extremist based on Phelps as a villain.
And Phelps insists that he and his followers are Christians, perhaps the only true Christians in the whole world.