Over at the conspiracy, Volokh makes the case that Fred Phelps shouldn’t have been found liable for picketing military funerals. He makes some good points, although I stand my impression that politics should not intrude on a private event. I oppose speech codes and am a big supporter of free speech, so my stance is not set in stone.
On the other hand, as noted by Overlawyered, Fred Phelps is vicious psychopath who has no problem abusing the law to get his way.
And then there are the lawsuits. Phelps himself is a disbarred attorney who was long known for massive litigation; at one point, he personally had almost 200 lawsuits pending in federal court. Although his congregation includes only about 22 adults, at least 14 of those have law degrees.
The church has its own law firm, Phelps Chartered, which is staffed by church members and which has repeatedly filed suit against its perceived enemies (see Halting Abusive Lawyers).
In addition to suing the chief of police and various Kansas judges and politicians, it has sued one district attorney three times for “malicious prosecution.” Even private citizens who filed criminal complaints against the picketers found themselves embroiled in lawsuits — or, perhaps by coincidence, with roofing nails littering their driveways.
Maybe $11 million is a bit much for this specific sin, but when you include things like this:
WBC members have picketed the funerals of Bill Clinton’s mother, Sonny Bono and Frank Sinatra. Even Bob Dole, Jerry Falwell, the Ku Klux Klan, Santa Claus and the 17 sailors killed aboard the U.S.S. Cole in Yemen last October have been attacked as “fags” or “supporters of the fag agenda.”
One little girl, going with her parents to see the “Nutcracker” ballet in a Topeka hall, had WBC pickets hiss at her: “Did your Daddy stick in his prick in your ass last night?”
I think it becomes apparent that this lawsuit is about the sum total of hatred and abuse they have heaped on anyone and everyone.
“There was a woman working at my restaurant who was gay,” says Jerry Berger, an attorney and owner of Topeka’s Vintage Restaurant. “Phelps told me, ‘If you don’t fire her, we’re going to put you out of business.’” The Westboro Baptists proceeded to picket the Restaurant “literally every day” for about three years. Berger eventually sold the restaurant and the woman quit.
Phelps didn’t. He followed the unfortunate woman, picketing at her new job, and “he still pickets the restaurant all the time,” Berger said in a recent interview. “And now, he pickets my law offices every Tuesday.”
Can we not declare insane and lock up a group of people who do things like this?
The article goes into the depressing amount of support this creep has gotten; but also into the people uniting against him.