Phelps’ church loses suit, but to what avail?

Finally a court has stood up to the Topeka-based Westboro Baptist Church.

Last week a federal court in Baltimore awarded the family of a fallen Marine from Maryland nearly $11 million in damages.

The lawsuit came as a result of members of the church disrupting the dead soldier’s funeral.

For years the Westboro Baptist Church, lead by pastor Fred Phelps, has spread its hate message, which mainly consists of condemning the country for its acceptance of homosexuality and saying said acceptance is the cause for the deaths of U.S. soldiers during the Iraq war.

The members of the congregation, most of which are family members of Phelps, have made national headlines with their abrasive and distasteful methods of spreading their hate messages.

Utilizing signs proclaiming messages such as “Thank God for Dead Soldiers,” “God Hates You” and others with higher levels of vulgarity, this group thrives off of the sorrow of families grieving the loss of a loved one. Without the shock value, the church would be simply dismissed as a non-issue.

As a student-journalist at Hutchinson Community College, I covered the funeral of a former student that died while serving the country in Iraq. The Phelps clan was there shouting their hate-speech.

It was uncomfortable to say the least. I found myself feeling embarrassed for them, especially after speaking with one of the protesters.

The things they believe to be true make it clear why the church is filled with family members. A person would have to be raised in a special environment to fully accept the ways of the Westboro Baptist Church.

People I have talked to about the court ruling were happy and felt as though justice had been served. I partially agree.

The First Amendment protects what the Phelps clan is doing; however, as I have said before, tastefulness is very important to me, and everything the Phelps people say is very distasteful.

I would like to say this ruling will silence Phelps and his followers, but it won’t.

Nearly everyone in the congregation is a lawyer, and it has been reporter the groups plans to appeal the decision.

This ruling will do nothing but add fuel to their fire. As long as they are getting attention, they believe they are getting a chance to spread their message.

Granted, this case may set a precedent, causing future lawsuit levied against the church to result in similar awards for wronged families.

However, if in the appeals process a higher court does overturn the decision for First Amendment reasons, the decision will be nothing more than ammunition for the Westboro Baptist Church members.

I wish I had a rosier outlook on this instance because I do think the group shouldn’t be protesting at funerals, but I really don’t think it will do any good.

The members of that congregation fully believe everything they say, and nothing will stop them from sticking to their convictions and pursuing what they believe to be their moral obligation of proclaiming hate.

Basically, this court ruling was nothing more than a moral victory. Maybe justice was finally served, but I doubt it will matter in the long run, especially if it gets overturned.

Phelps won’t stop. He will spread his message as long as he has a breath in his lungs.

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About toddvogts 773 Articles
My name is Todd Vogts. I am an assistant professor of media. I like the color green, riding my motorcycle, and being with my family and friends. A good book is a perfect companion for me any time, and I'm a published author and journalist. Visit my website at and follow me on Twitter at

1 Comment

  1. I think that the media should totally ignore the Westboro Baptist Church. Let them protest, but give them no media coverage, no photos, nothing in the newspapers, no acknowledgement of any kind. Easier said than done if they are protesting the funeral of your loved one, but they are only interested in publicity. If we stop giving it to them, they will wither up and die.

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