Beanery Online Literary Magazine

November 16, 2007


—written by Carolyn C. Holland According to a Tribune-Review article, attorneys representing Pastor Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church leaders, argued that “burial was a public event and that even abhorrent points of view are protected by the First Amendment’s” guarantee of free speech. The church was successfully sued by Albert Snyder, of York, Pa., after its members demonstrated at the March 2006 funeral of his son, Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder, who was killed in Iraq.
Phelps, 77, heads the Kansas-based church, which is ostensibly Baptist, “unaffiliated” and comprised of only his family members. He started out by demonstrating at AIDS Victims funerals, and moved to demonstrating at the funerals of U.S. military personnel killed in Iraq, celebrating the deaths of those killed while defending a “fag” nation. His targets span the full political and theological spectrum. Anyone who does not share his insistence that God reserves a special hatred for homosexuals is worthy of the Phelps treatment. His “God Hates Fags” theme has earned him an unending stream of media attention over the last 15 years.
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors “hate groups” (among which Phelps proudly numbers), he was ordained at age 17. He rejected his mild Methodist upbringing, cut-off his family, and dropped out of both West Point and Bob Jones University.
Phelps professes a unique form of Calvinism that insists on God’s “perfect hatred” for the unrighteous, among whom homosexuals are chief. It is a brand of Calvinism, not to speak of Christianity, that would be foreign to anyone outside of the Westboro Church compound.
Phelps insists his funeral demonstration targets are now justly in hell. “God is not mocked,” he declares. He is the main and probably only target of legislation in several states that considers banning funeral demonstrations.
According to a federal judge in Kentucky, the state law went too far in restricting freedom of speech when it barred protesters from saying hateful things to mourners at military funerals, agreeing with the ACLU of Kentucky. The judge ruled that the law barring protests within 300 feet of military funerals and memorial services is too broad and may not be enforced.
“Certainly the Commonwealth has an interest in showing respect and compassion
for the deceased and for their families, but we cannot allow lawmakers to trample upon the First Amendment in the process,” said ACLU of Kentucky staff attorney Lili Lutgens. “Today, the federal court recognized that even speech that most people find distasteful is still protected by the Constitution.”
Distasteful speech is at the heart of the case. Taunts aimed at grieving military families have prompted the legal action, and even Congress passed a law barring protests at military funerals in federal cemeteries.
In her September 2006 ruling District Judge Karen Caldwell wrote that the 300-foot buffer zone requested “is large enough that it would restrict communications intended for the general public on a matter completely unrelated to the funeral.”
According to the ACLU, the laws may even prevent groups like the Patriot Guard
Riders, a group of pro-military bikers, from being close enough to support the
families of soldiers at the funerals.

The jury awarded Snyder $2.9 million in compensatory damages, $6 million in punitive damages for invasion of privacy, and $2 million for causing emotional distress.
Phelps’ daughter Shirley issued a blog response to the judgment. “Thank God for the 10.9 million dollar verdict!! Our God doeth all things well! We have criss-crossed this nation for 17 long weary years, every single day, putting up with all the Doomed americans will do to you if you will not agree to run riotous with them! EVERY DAY we pray to our God for a great door and effectual to open unto us so that we may preach this gospel to the whole world! Our faithful God – terrible and dreadful – who keepeth covenant with them that love him and demonstrate that by keeping his commandments and loving their neighbor, PER HIS STANDARD – that is get out on those streets of a perishing nation and warn them to flee the wrath to come – I say that very God has taken
the door of utterance OFF the hinges!…Will this curtail our activities – NO!…clearly the
answer is – YES!
Just because some judge with a strong military background and some military
lawyers rage at us and drag us across the country to put us on trial for our
religion – nothing has changed with God and HIS word and HIS standards and HIS
commandments! What kind of thankless brutes would we be to run in the face of
the tyrant?”

Phelps is aggressively patriarchal, with 13 children and at least 50 grandchildren. At least 10 of his offspring are lawyers, like him (though he has been disbarred). Legal challenges to his campaigns of hate are met with aggressive and litigious responses,
Information in this article was taken from the following web sites:{91058469-F6DE-4615-8B2A-73CDF3E8FCAC} (Frontpage article written by Mark D. Tooley, Feb. 9, 2006: (By Susan Jones Senior Editor, September 27, 2006),2933,307058,00.html (Jury Awards Father Nearly $11 Million in Funeral Protesters Case, November 01, 2007)
Tribune-Review newspaper article, Area man lauds win on funeral protests, Nov. 1, 2007

1 Comment »

  1. “CHURCH SUED FOR FUNERAL DEMONSTRATIONS Beanery Online Literary Magazine” was in fact truly engaging and enlightening!
    Within todays universe honestly, that is
    quite hard to do. Thank you, Gabriela

    Comment by — February 6, 2013 @ 8:16 am | Reply

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