Although the Westboro Baptist Church (better known as "The Fred Phelps Family") has been universally mocked and hated for their anti-gay and anti-American protests, little attention has been paid to the legal loopholes and ramifications of what they do.
That is, until recently when the father of an American veteran, Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder heroically refused to pay over $16,000 in court fees awarded to the Westboro Baptists in one of their temper-triggered suits.
The group had protested at Cpl. Snyder's funeral with vulgar signs declaring that God wanted American soldiers to die and that they were all "fags". Cpl. Snyder's father, Albert Snyder sued them for the distress they caused during the family's moment of grief.
Snyder initially won a judgment against the Westboro Baptists of $5 Million dollars. But as the story tragically goes, the Westboro Baptists appealed the decision and the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed, finding in favor of protecting the protesters' free-speech rights. About three weeks ago, the Supreme Court agreed to take the case and is expected to hear it in the fall. (Last year, the high court had declined to take up the issue.) Meanwhile, the circuit court has ordered Snyder, a salesman, to pay the churches court expenses.
Mr. Snyder says he will not pay any money to the Phelps until he gets to take them to the highest court in the land. "It's fair to say that they are not getting any Christmas cards from Mr. Snyder," says Mr. Snyder's attorney to the Christian Science Monitor, "He obviously thinks they are despicable and doesn't understand why they would target him."
In a somewhat controversial move, Bill O'Reilly (of Fox News fame) has offered to pay the $16,000 in an attempt to save Mr. Snyder from the costs of the judgment. This act is on one hand generous but could also be perceived as counter-productive in that the money would still ultimately go to the hate group.
The insanity doesn't stop there.
Another such loophole which the Phelps clan relies upon to stay in business results from a congressional law called "The Civil Rights Attorney's Fees Award Act of 1976". This law was created to reimburse (with federal money) any attorneys who take a civil rights case in which they represent their client's right to freedom of speech and free assembly.
What makes this law a "loop-hole" for a hate group like the Phelps clan is that they act simultaneously as both their attorneys and their own clients. Most Americans are surprised to learn that surprised to find out that not only one of the Westboro Baptists have passed the bar exam, but almost all of them have.
Basically, what this amounts to is a situation where one of the cult members, for instance, Shirley Phelps-Roper can show up at an American soldier's funeral and scream obscenities at his mother while she's trying to grieve. Of course, this sort of behavior will generally result in an angry lawsuit from the grieving family and friends at which point, Shirley will have one of her sons or daughters represent "the church" in the case. From there, they've convinced countless judges that they are "merely defending their civil rights" and "only practicing their religion and right to free speech".
There is no law in place, evidently, to prevent a Hate Group from representing themselves in court and collecting government money in that process. In fact, it's how they make their money - through government freebies for defending their "civil right" to be as belligerent as they can be.