God Hates Fred Phelps
The father of a Marine killed in Iraq won a damage suit against funeral protester Fred Phelps. Albert Snyder won on every count of his complaint against members of the Westboro Baptist Church, as well as $2.9 million for compensatory damages and $8 million for punitive damages.
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."
But some critics warned the judgement against Phelps, while emotionally satisfying, dealt a blow against the Freedom of Speech.
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.
It is always possible to construct contradictions between the claims of two competing rights. In this case it is between the rights to speech and privacy. Between Phelp's right to express his views and that of a father to grieve in piece. Society often rebalances the competing claims depending on the requirements of the time. Twenty two states enacted laws to prevent such disgusting displays without complete success, setting the stage for the court confrontation. Phelps should have seen it coming.