By now you’ve heard that members of Westboro Baptist Church lost in Federal Court yesterday.
On Wednesday, the church and three of its leaders — Fred Phelps and his two daughters, Phelps-Roper and Rebekah Phelps-Davis — were found liable for invasion of privacy and intent to inflict emotional distress. Jurors awarded Snyder $2.9 million in compensatory damages and $8 million in punitive damages.
Let me first say that like many civil awards, I believe this to be excessive. There is no way that Albert Snyder was damaged $2.9 million worth. This large award most likely works for the benefit of the church members rather than for Mr. Snyder. What are the odds that he will see any of this compensation? Mr. Snyder says this is not about the money. He is encouraging other families to engage in lawsuits as a way of eventually reigning in this family and this church.
Those who believe that the verdict will have any significant immediate impact on the activities of the Westboro Baptist Church don’t understand how passionate these people are with their “God-given mission”. The Baltimore Sun reports;
“Absolutely, don’t you understand this was an act in futility?” said Shirley Phelps-Roper, whose father founded the Westboro Baptist Church.
“Oh, it will take about five minutes to get that thing reversed,” Fred Phelps said.
An appeal is expected to be filed.
I’ll actually be surprised if this case isn’t reversed on appeal. I find the message of Westboro Baptist Church offensive. I disagree strongly with their theology and their understanding of Scripture. I also disagree with their tactics. I’ve watched their protests from as close as 5 feet and it took me a while to feel clean again. I want them to stop. Yet, their protests were carried out where police told them to be, and the target of their message was not necessarily the Snyder family.
There are now questions being raised about the finances of the individuals. They essentially have no individual assets. How does that surprise anyone? I suspect that they are supported entirely by the church itself, both as a protection from such damage awards and in accordance with New Testament descriptions of communal living.
In the meantime, damage continues to be done to the church as the Body of Christ. Westboro Baptist Church is in the ranks of those who make it more challenging for us to proclaim Christ in this culture. That’s the biggest loser here.