Saturday, April 05, 2008

Court places liens on Fred Phelps' church, office

Just caught this bit of news about America's most hated hater. A federal judge on Thursday placed liens against the Westboro Baptist Church building, as well as its law office. This was done in the wake of a $5 million judgment against Westboro won by the family of slain Iraq veteran Matthew Snyder, whose funeral the scumbags picketed. Even if the Phelpses are driven into filing bankruptcy as a result of this, the article explains they still wouldn't be protected from having to pay out the $2.1 million part of the judgment that constitutes punitive damages. Efforts are underway to determine what the church and the Phelpses are really worth. Yes, I know you could determine that just by examining the contents of your commode after a massive case of dysentery. I'm talking financially. With luck, they'll be living under the same bridge soon.


  1. Ah, the civil suit. What a way to take down someone who makes very sure he violates no laws when he parades his ignorance and hatred around.

    Couldn't have happened to a nicer person.

  2. Efforts are underway to determine what the church and the Phelpses are really worth.

    That should be easy: just take a look at WBC's most recent financial statement...

    Oh, wait. WBC's a church, so it pays no taxes and doesn't have to disclose its finances. Why is that, exactly?

  3. I hope they do have to auction off the property. In a perfect world someone like the Freedom From Religion Foundation or GLAAD would be the ones to buy the place.

  4. I probably won't get a lot of support from anyone - but this is completely wrong.

    I'll have to go read the court transcripts, but essentially this family sued for invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

    Yes, the Phelps clan are despicable human beings - but they have rights as well. Unless this case cites something special, they're free to picket a funeral - no matter how distasteful that may be.

    It's called free speech...and you don't have a right to not be offended.

    "Intentional infliction of emotional distress" needs to simply go away. It's most often a way to trump free speech without showing real harm.

    I'm going to sue every caller who threatens me with hell - because that's intentional infliction of emotional distress. And, of course, they'll counter-sue for the exact same reason when I tell them I think they're delusional.

    I'm no friend of the Phelps family or their ideals - but I am a fan of the Constitution and free speech. As offensive as the Phelps are, this sort of thing is more offensive - because it harms us all.

  5. How is what the Phelps cult did any different than paparazzi? In fact, you could argue that the Phelps cult is less of an invasion of privacy since they respected the distance they were required to keep. Let's see,
    • both intrude on people in public
    • both yell provocative things to elicit a response
    • both exploit the resulting response
    but of course we aren't sympathetic towards celebs, but the families of fallen servicemen? Oh that's different. Also different is yelling shit to advance your cult vs. yelling shit to provoke an awesome photo that will titillate us in People of the National Enquirer.

    This ruling is unjust, and it's high time we get over the glee of seeing these assholes reamed and realize that this opens the door to all of us getting reamed some day. Take for instance this hypothetical court testimony:
    “Oh, the mental anguish and trauma hearing those filthy words uttered blaspheming our God, your honor! I, I don’t see how I’ll ever be the same. I have nightmares and chills and look, I’ve had this debilitating facial tick ever since that renders me incapable of maintaining my livelihood… etc.”
    So if an atheist group yelled what christians feel is hurtful and blasphemous, should they get reamed, too? I mean, fair is fair, right? Or isn't it when we're talking about things we agree with vs things we don't? That's not how it's supposed to work.

  6. It occurs to me that if Matt and Phillychief are right, and there are grounds to appeal this ruling, then Phelps and his crowd could be appealing it. Ergo, why aren't they? As none of us has read the ruling itself, there may be be factors involved that make invasion of privacy a legitimate claim here — for instance, unless they're owned by the city, many cemeteries are private, not public property — and thus comparing the family lawsuit to someone suing us simply for being offended by something said on the TV show might not be an apropos comparison after all. It also occurs to me that there must be some legal legitimacy to ideas like "intentional infliction of emotional distress" that enable it to be used as grounds for lawsuits that merely citing 1st Amendment freedoms isn't good enough to counter. Before judging the judgment here, we should know more.

  7. I've followed a lot of the protest activities by the Phelps. They've gone out of their way to make sure they've operated within the law - even getting permits, standing outside of the cemetery, etc.

    I'm still looking for the transcripts from this particular case...but where did you hear that they aren't going to appeal this?

    In fact, the article you linked clearly states that this lien is pending the outcome of an appeal:

    "If the case presided over by U.S. District Court Judge Richard D. Bennett is upheld by an appeals court"

    The lien is based on a judgment from a jury (and I've already talked about the problems with this case when that judgment was initially delivered)...that judgment was reduced by the judge and is dependent on the ruling of the appeals court.

    Unless there's some special circumstances that I haven't been able to discover, I hope that the appeals court overturns the jury's decision.

    But, I'm still looking for transcripts and still open to having my mind changed.

    Unfortunately, I think it's more likely that a group of jurors, sympathetic to the plaintiff and hostile to the hateful message of the Phelps, simply decided to ignore the free speech issues and exact a little punishment - with no thought to the impact that it might have.

    I don't *know* that this is what happened, but it seems likely. I guess I'll go find some more information...but, so far, it looks like free speech that offended someone.

  8. I'm still looking for the transcripts from this particular case...but where did you hear that they aren't going to appeal this?

    In fact, the article you linked clearly states that this lien is pending the outcome of an appeal...

    You're right, my mistake.

  9. Here's more on the case and the issues...

    This article discusses what has been happening in recent decisions and the possible impact:

    Lower courts, after hearing legal challenges to the funeral protest statutes, have essentially said a person has a privacy right to be free from offensive messages while attending funerals.

    This is what's happening in these cases...and, in my opinion, it violates the first amendment by inventing some sort of 'sacred situation' precedent that gives people the right to sue if they're offended.

    According the AP, via the Baltimore Sun:

    "Westboro Baptist Church has filed a motion seeking to stay November's verdict,"

    This particular case (and I still haven't been able to find the transcripts) doesn't just address free speech, it addresses freedom of religious expression as well.

    I listened to a TV interview that attempted to talk to Fred Phelps after the decision.

    You can watch it here

    Fred Phelps is absolutely right in this clip.

    Ignore the name-calling, ignore the fact that he's bat-shit crazy and promotes vile and hateful religious views...when he addresses the issue here (beginning at around 1:39), he's 100% right.

    His rights to both free speech and free exercise were violated by this judgment and it should be overturned by the appeals court.

    The reporter also hits the truth on the head when he states that he's not asking about rights, he is, instead, asking about a sense of decency.

    The first amendment not only ignores that - it protects us from those who would take on the mantle of "decency" police. The only speech that needs to be protected is unpopular speech.

    It's time to insert my standard disclaimer. I don't like the hateful religious views of Phelps' group - but we dismiss him as kook and a crackpot at our own peril. He's a smart lawyer who did much good work for civil rights issues. He knows the law almost as well as he knows his Bible.

    His insane religious views make me sick, his lack of respect for fallen soldiers is offensive and vile. But he's absolutely right about this issue...

    And he's going to end up standing alongside Larry Flynt as a champion of First Amendment rights.

    I admire Flynt, he's a personal hero, and it's almost entirely because he is a champion of First Amendment rights.

    As much as I don't want to, I'm probably going to end up admiring Fred Phelps as well...while hating everything about the venom he spews.

    So, food for thought, why would a smut-peddler and a hate-slinger end up being champions of the First Amendment?

    Because people who didn't understand our basic rights decided to sue them. The people who brought these lawsuits decided that their personal offense was more valuable than someone else's right to free speech.

    They essentially said, "You don't have the right to say that...because it offends me."

    They were wrong and they're going to turn a hate-spewer into some sort of hero.

    I don't like finding myself supporting Fred Phelps. But he's right on this one.

  10. A few last bits on this subject (still no transcript...GRR)..

    Here's a fairly good article from Good-As-You

    The grieving father who filed the suit made this comment:

    "On a public corner, I don't care; it doesn't matter to me. They have that right, but they don't have a right to ruin and tarnish peoples' last memory of a loved one"

    The GoodAsYou folks pointed out that Phelps' comments were, in fact, made on a public corner.

    I'll go the extra step and say that the families make their own memories, the Phelps have every right to try to tarnish and ruin them (within the boundaries of the law - as they have been)...and the family can simply ignore the ravings of these religious nuts, rather than filing a lawsuit that - if justice is served - should actually result in the protection of the Phelps' rights.

    And now...I'll stop - until I've got a transcript or until the appeal is ruled on.

    But, take note of the father's comment. He didn't point out where they broke the law - he just put a limit on their free speech with regard to his particular situation, or funerals in general.

  11. I've heard Matt make this argument before, and as usual he is right. It's just hard to see past my seething hatred for these people sometimes.

  12. I'm reading the opinion now...I'm about halfway through and I stand by what I've said. There's a LOT wrong with this...but something just struck me:

    If this stands as precedent, using the specific justifications and facts in this case...Falwell's family can sue me for what I said after he died.

    In attempting to exact vengeance, this jury ruled overly broad and the Judge bent over backward to find ways to support their decision - even being highly selective in which First Amendment cases he cited, he still got it wrong.

    I may write up more on this another time...but right now, this is pretty shocking.

  13. The jury was suckered in by Snyder’s emotional sobbing about how the event makes him vomit when he thinks about it, how he can’t think of his son without thinking of them and how it all has forced him into therapy and the stress has exacerbated his pre-existing conditions. So let’s get this straight, punitive damages were awarded because WHAT THEY SAID through signs and through an “epic” on their website upset Mr. Snyder. This is EXACTLY what I described above with my little bogus testimony from someone claiming emotional distress from hearing atheist comments. Exactly the same fucking thing. Not a free speech issue? Really?

    Next is this issue of “intrusion of seclusion”. (For those unclear on it, intrusion upon seclusion occurs where there is an invasion, through conduct offensive to an ordinary person, of an individual’s information in which he or she has a “reasonable expectation of privacy.”) Now what gets grossly overlooked here is Snyder admits he never saw the Phelps protest at the funeral. He only saw the protest on tv and later, when looking for info on his son online, found the godhatesfag website and read the “epic” they wrote on his son. So the first case of intrusion, the actual witnessing of the intrusion, didn’t take place. In the second, there were no private details, no invasion of an individual’s information, that were made public.

    The issue of intrusion in this opinion is too closely married to the punitive judgement in light of Snyder’s boo-hooing about seeing the coverage of the protest and reading the epic on the website being ‘a wound that may never heal’ (I forget exactly how it’s worded in the opinion). In fact, I’d say the two are being confused, so that intrusion is being decided BECAUSE of the belief that Snyder suffered damages, and not on the merit of whether there was an actual intrusion, and if that’s the case, what’s the substance of the damage? He got upset at seeing the Phelps’ signs and reading what they wrote on their website. SO it all boils down to an issue of free speech, essentially, can you be found at fault if something you say upsets someone. That is fucking frightening.

  14. This comment has been removed by the author.

  15. "Now what gets grossly overlooked here is Snyder admits he never saw the Phelps protest at the funeral."

    Correct. How can you claim an intrusion of privacy when he doesn't even find out about it until he sees it on the local news.

    Perhaps he should sue the network. After all, they made a conscious decision to publicize this. If they hadn't decided to run with the controversy, the father may never have known.

    There's a lot wrong with this case...far more than any of us have addressed. I've got about 4 pages of notes from the opinion and I'm actually pretty optimistic that this will be overturned.

  16. I despise the Phelps and everything they stand for. Everything they say disgusts me. With that being said:

    I see them as a liability for fundamentalist Christians. They make Christians look bad, like polygamists make Mormons looks bad. I am not going to defend either until Christians start defending Atheists.

    It is a shame our soldiers have to endure this hatred during emotional and trying times. It sickens me to have to decide between my cause or theirs.

  17. It sickens me to have to decide between my cause or theirs.

    The only "cause" to choose is that of Constitutionality, which should be EVERYONE'S CAUSE. It's easy to defend speech we like, but it's speech we don't that requires the most effort to defend but if we don't, it all goes away.


PLEASE NOTE: The Atheist Experience has moved to a new location, and this blog is now closed to comments. To participate in future discussions, please visit

This blog encourages believers who disagree with us to comment. However, anonymous comments are disallowed to weed out cowardly flamers who hide behind anonymity. Commenters will only be banned when they've demonstrated they're nothing more than trolls whose behavior is intentionally offensive to the blog's readership.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.