Fred Phelps and his followers from the Westboro Baptist Church are sick bastards. We've all known that for quite a while now. But they've found a formula that allows them to spew their hate without retribution. They have woven free speech and religion into a protective cloak.
Free speech and religion are two things that most Americans hold as sacred, and they are loath to deny either. This is true even when perverts such as the cult at Westboro Baptist use them to attack not only gays, but our country itself. But they may have finally stepped over the line.
Recently, they have been holding their vile demonstrations at the funerals of American soldiers who gave their lives fighting for this country. Regardless of what we might think of the Iraq war, the soldiers who died fighting it are brave and honorable men and women who were just doing their duty for their country.
But the Phelps clan has been disturbing the funerals of these soldiers, carrying signs that say things like "You're going to hell" and "Thank God for dead soldiers". They have been noisy, rude and shown no respect for the families of the fallen soldiers. But they may have taken their disgusting road show to the wrong funeral.
In March of 2006, the Phelps clan showed up at the funeral of soldier Matthew Snyder in Maryland. But Matthew's father, Albert Snyder, did not take the disruption of his son's funeral lying down. He filed suit in a Baltimore court, charging them with invasion of his privacy and causing him severe emotional distress.
Of course, the attorney for the Phelps clan says Snyder is trying to deprive them of free speech. He asked, "If they're not permitted to have their views, where's it stop?" But that question is a bit disingenuous. He knows very well that there are limits on free speech.
No one is denying this group the right to preach their perverted gospel. They have been allowed to spew their filth all over this country. They had the right to hold their demonstration anywhere -- except in front of this grieving family. They didn't just cross the line of common decency, I believe they crossed a legal line also. The Snyder family also has rights.
The case is now before a Baltimore jury. Phelps and his followers should be glad I'm not on that jury. It would take me less than a second to hold them responsible for their actions.
UPDATE -- The jury has returned it's verdict. They have said the Westboro Baptist Church must pay the Snyder family $2.9 million. That sounds like a reasonable verdict to me.