Hate church finances revaled in court
Three members of the Westboro Baptist Church have presented their accounts to a court in an attempt to reduce the nearly $11m (£5.4m) they were ordered to pay Albert Snyder, the father of a fallen Marine, for protesting at his son’s funeral.
Westboro Baptist, which has about 75 members, the vast majority of whom are relatives of preacher Rev Fred Phelps, protests at funerals using anti-gay slurs.
Three members of the church, Rev Phelps and his daughters, Shirley Phelps-Roper and Rebekah Phelps-Davis, presented documentation to the in U.S. District Court in Baltimore saying they have a net worth of less than $1m (£489,100).
The judge must now decide how much, if any, of the award the church must pay to Mr Snyder. His lawyers accused the church of lying about how much money it has.
Mr Snyder was the first to bring an individual lawsuit against Westboro Baptist Church for its protests at military funerals.
He claimed that protesters from the Kansas-based anti-gay group destroyed his only chance to bury in peace the son he lost in Iraq. He filed a complaint in June 2006.
The picketers, who had carried signs with messages such as “Thank God for dead soldiers,” have said that they were trying to oppose gays in the military.
During the civil trial the jury considered whether Westboro Baptist Church was liable for an intentional infliction of emotional distress based on the message from its members’ signs.
The jurors decided the Snyder family’s expectation of privacy at Matthew Snyder’s funeral was violated by the church members’ protest outside St. John Roman Catholic Church in Westminster.
Three adults and four children marched outside Snyder’s funeral in March 2006, waving placards expressing their belief that the military’s combat losses is a direct result of immoral behaviour, including homosexuality, among its ranks.
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First Amendment experts had said these types of lawsuits often founder because even the most hateful speech is usually protected and there is a good chance the church could win an appeal.
Legal experts have also questioned the size of the award.
“A multimillion-dollar award for emotional distress would not be warranted for this kind of thing,” John T. Nockleby, a professor and director of the civil justice programme at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles told the Baltimore Sun.
“And the judge would almost certainly find ways and reasons for reducing it.
“The Supreme Court has bracketed how much can be awarded. It’s has to be proportionate. You can’t willy-nilly award $100 million.
“The court has suggested an award of more than 10 times, except in unusual situations, would be out of line.”