Apr 4, 2008

Church must be Confiscated

The Topeka Capitol-Journal reports that U.S. District Court Judge Richard D. Bennett has placed a lien on the Westboro Baptist church of minister Fred Phelps, Sr. The lien is a preliminary step to sell the Topeka church, with the proceeds being applied toward $5 million in damages Judge Bennett imposed on church members for picketing a military funeral.

The $5 million penalty is the result of a lawsuit filed against three of the church's principals by Albert Snyder, the father of Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew A. Snyder, whose funeral was picketed by church members.

The senior Snyder contended the picketing caused emotional distress and invasion of privacy.

Westboro Baptist members regularly picket funerals of members of the U.S. armed forces, contending the deaths are God's punishment for the country's support of homosexuals.

Ladies and Gentlemen, regardless of what you think about Fred Phelps, you ought to be terribly concerned about the government taking over any church because of the actions of its pastor and members.

6 comments:

Milehimama said...

Well, they've been doing to Catholics for a while now based on actions of a few clergy/bishops - ALL of the faithful have been punished.

Anonymous said...

As loathsome as the Westboro folks are, it is not within the limits of reason to believe they ever caused $5 milliion dollars worth of damage with one of their stupid protests. This is a violation of at least two constitutiional principles, freedom of speech and the right to be secure in your property. Terrorist government run amuck under the color of law.

Tom in Vegas said...

I think with Protestant denominations, since the individual pastor typically owns the physical church, it is considered property that belongs to him and therefore part of his personal assets. In the Catholic Church, where a priest does not own the Church but oversees some aspect of it, the same connection is more difficult to establish. It can happen, of coarse. If the Church had not had the financial means to pay off all the lawsuits from the abuse scandals, then we would have probably seen similar litigation against us.

The Phelps are truly reprehensible misanthropes. How they can behave with such disrespectful and barbaric obsession is beyond me.

Anonymous said...

Do keep in mind that this was a private lawsuit - in many ways no different than if someone had slipped on ice or snow on the Westboro church grounds (that should've been shoveled) and sued for their physical injuries - the injuries could've been catastrophic in such a case and also resulted in a multi-million dollar verdict and a lien against church property. The church could lose its property under those circumstances as well. The court is merely enforcing the verdict of the jury under applicable case law. This case is not the government suing Westboro for its actions, thoughts, or beliefs (which is why the state legistlautres have been frustrated in trying to craft a statute that limits the rights of Westboro vs. the rights of the families of deceased soldires - any state imposed limitation on free speech is very difficult to uphold). I think it unlikely the plaintiff will be successful in enforcing its lien against the real estate (because the pastor may be able to claim it as his homestead which is exempt from execution of a financial judgment in Kansas). This judgment is the same as if someone sues an individual or an organization for libel or slander - it is not the government clamping down on free speech - it is the individual plaintiff who sued contending he or she was damaged by the defendant's written or spoken word - the judgment doesn't prevent Westboro from continuing its actions. The court, in enforcing the decision of the jury imposed a monetary penalty on Westboro for its prior "bad acts" (as decided by a jury). Now, I don't disagree with anonymous who said the plaintiff didn't really suffer $5 million in damages...not every wrong can be compensated financially - but much of the damage amount was punitive damages - again, something the jury could elect to give or not give based on the facts and arguments its heard. In addition, damages for "emotional distress" are not as "concrete" in terms of damages as a broken arm due to a slip, fall on improperly maintained property - but nonetheless, it is a recognzied cause of action in most states (on the grounds of trying to compensate financially for any wrong, I suspect). One reason the sex abuse crimes have been so expensive for the Catholic Church is because all the assets are owned by a diocese and since the diocese is the employer it is legally responsible (in most instances) for the bad acts of its employees (even if outside the scope of the employee's job description) and thus the employer's assets can be taken to pay the damages owed the plaintiff. If the diocese didn't settle, then the judgment would be a lien on all the assets of the diocese. If each parish, for example, owned its own assets and was the employer, then only a particular parish's assets would be vulnerable. In most other denominations this is the case so there is no "deep pocket" as with a Catholic Church diocese. The deep pocket (or the perceived deep pocket) makes a diocese a much better target than the Protestant church on the corner (unless it happens to be a huge megachurch with lots and lots of assets of its own). Bigger dioceses mean more assets at risk and hence larger settlements - this latter bit is a bit off topic - but is relevant in that this Westboro case is not a monetary judgment against the entire Southern Baptist convention (or any other Baptis church or group of Baptist churches) - but just this one church. A judgment against a Catholic diocese on the account of libel, slander, or infliction of empotional distress by the actions of one diocesan employee (be it clergy or lay) would allow the plaintiff to collect against any diocesan assets - and with real estate, a plaintiff could probably find $5 million in assets to recoup to pay the judgment.

Anonymous said...

Anon,
I wonder if you would feel the same were it your loved one's funeral being protested...
Of course, this is just another glaring example of the lack of respect many protestants show for the dead. The protests may be 'stupid' to you but I guarantee they caused considerable emotional, and most probably spiritual, distress to the individuals involved in burying their dead. No one, and I do mean no one, deserves to be harassed during such an already painful time. Even pro-death penalty advocates have more common courtesy than that when attending an execution.
I would only be more happy with the ruling if the jury had awarded all the church assets to the plaintiff.

thetimman said...

Dusty, I agree with you wholeheartedly. The day is coming our way...