I do believe we are in the process of watching the death of a church, if you could call it that. The Westboro Baptist Church, (that vile, hate mongering empty shell of an institution that calls itself a church – for the purpose of this post I’ll grant them the same status) is dying. At least, that’s my call based on what I read.
You may remember that last year the church, and it’s founder, was hit by a 10.9 million dollar jury verdict, later reduced to 5 million, after convincing the jury that the Church intentionally inflicted emotional damage on a man whose son was killed in Iraq, by picketing the funeral with its usual completely irrational and bizarre allegations that the Iraq war dead have only homosexuality to blame for their untimely deaths, ignoring the roles of George Bush, Dick Cheney, the neo-cons, and everyone else that supported the war, including many religious supporters in numerous churches throughout the land.
The Church, and Fred Phelps and his daughter (a lawyer no less) are appealing the judgment, and have asked the court to stay the judgment pending the appeal, but the court has refused. (It’s not an automatic right to have the judgment stayed while it’s on appeal). The judge has ordered them to post cash bonds totaling $225,000.00 in order to avoid having liens placed on their real estate holdings, which are valued at almost $700,000.00. This would prevent them from borrowing money against them, pending the appeal.
This couldn’t happen to a nicer church.
I’m a big fan of free speech rights, and frankly, if they want to stand outside the courthouse, or another church, or my office, with pickets claiming that god hates fags, as they inexplicably seem fond of doing, then hey, this is America. Have at it! Why they feel the need to intrude upon the last resting places of anyone, regardless of how they die, however, make little sense to me. So I think that they should be allowed to picket the funeral of a war hero with their abominable ideas, however, they should also not complain when they are socked with a lawsuit for intentionally causing emotional suffering to a family that has suffered enough, and should be willing to then pay for the exercise of those free speech rights. It’s only fair.
Now apparently it has happened. It is doubtful the judgment will be overturned, because it is not in any way a prior restraint on their free speech rights to claim that a particular soldier died because god was punishing him for the sin of someone else. According to this church, some homosexual somewhere else is living it up with his gay friends, having no idea that what he’s doing is causing the death of someone on the other side of the world. As crazy as it sounds, they have a right to believe that, and a right to tell us about it. This judgment doesn’t stop them from saying that, and apparently hasn’t deterred them from continuing to do so, either. A least not yet.
But when they have assets that are significantly less than the amount of the judgment, and when the principals of the church show income of a relatively negligible amount, there’s a good chance that the unrelenting and pissed off father will be using that judgment as a means to shut down the church. It may not stop the Phelps’ and their supporters (mostly family) from continuing to spew hatred tinged bile from their mouths and brains, and it may not stop them from exercising their First Amendment rights to picket cemeteries, but it will go a long way towards depriving them of the financial support they need to do so.
Perhaps some day I’ll regret having taken this position, when someone sues me for exercising my First Amendment rights, and obtains a valid judgment against me. Somehow, I think the way the world looks at these matters will have to change substantially before I would really fear that.
Right now, I’ll take that chance, and gladly watch this particular church die.