Citizens Against Hate

…seeking a kinder and gentler world

Westboro Baptist Church – Instructions to the Jury

Posted by nicolen on November 1, 2007

phelps2.jpgWhen the jury handed down their verdict and findings against the Reverend Fred Phelps, his daughters, and the Westboro Baptist Church, some applauded, some cried, some smiled and others sounded the alarm.

Eleven million dollars is a lot of dough by anyone’s calculations – and it far exceeds any assests that are held by Phelps and his progeny. The amount, however, isn’t what is troubling certain individuals. It’s the concern about the loss of civil liberties, namely free speech.

Throughout cyber-space the sirens are going off one after the other as some believe that this judgment has set a very dangerous precedent that will be felt by all – especially activists. Admittedly, these concerns are not exactly unfounded.

For the last couple of years, Phelps has taken his crew into city after city where they proceed to disrupt the funerals of fallen soldiers. Picketing with signs reading, “Thank God for Dead Soldiers” and “God Hates You,” while singing “God Hates America,” grieving families have been unable to bury their dead with peace and dignity. All of this has prompted some cities to pass ordinances which stipulate the parameters within which such demonstrations can be held.

Last year, Albert Snyder, Corporal Matthew A. Snyder’s father, sued the Westboro Baptist Church in United States District Court claiming invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Earlier today a jury agreed with Mr. Snyder.

At issue here, however, are the instructions issued to the jury by presiding Judge Richard D. Bennet in which he told the nine members that there are limits on free speech protection, listing categories that include vulgar, offensive and shocking statements, and he instructed jurors to 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,” according to The A.P.

Consequently, it is left for interpretation as to what is “vulgar, offensive, shocking, extreme, and outrageous.” Just as Mr. Snyder will probably never realize the eleven million awarded to him, it is also likely that this will become hotly contested and appealed.

While I may quietly love the idea that this vermin got his “comeupance,” I also recognize the concerns of others. The questions still remain, however, “when is enough really enough?” What is really “over-the-top?” Or should it just be a free-for-all? Should a line be drawn and if so, where?


One Response to “Westboro Baptist Church – Instructions to the Jury”

  1. […] Read the rest… […]

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