BALTIMORE — A Kansas church and three members have nearly $1 million in assets, with about a third in church property, far less than the $10.9 million a federal jury ordered them to pay for protesting at the funeral of a Marine killed in Iraq, according to court records.
The Westboro Baptist Church, known for carrying signs that read “God Hates Fags,” and “Thank God for dead soldiers” at military funerals nationwide, lists $442,800 in real estate holdings, an $86,696 mortgage and about $50,000 in personal property and cash, according to the filing.
Church members believe soldiers are being killed in Iraq and Afghanistan as punishment for the nation’s tolerance of homosexuality and argued during the trial that their protests should be allowed under the First Amendment, which guarantees freedom of speech and religion.
Defense attorney Jonathan Katz told jurors during closing arguments on punitive damages that much of the defendant’s wealth was in homes, retirement income and cars that couldn’t be touched under Kansas law.
Attorney Sean Summers, who represented Albert Snyder, the father of Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder, said after the financial records were unsealed Tuesday that he believed the defendants could be forced to sell church property to satisfy the judgment.
“In most states, property that’s held by a husband and wife is somewhat protected to a certain extent, but the church is set up as a corporation,” Summers said.
“That’s not protected in bankruptcy because it’s just an asset of a corporation.”
The jury awarded $2.9 million in compensatory damages and $8 million in punitive damages – $6 million for invasion of privacy and $2 million for causing emotional distress.
Snyder, of York, sued the Topeka, Kan.-based Westboro Baptist Church for unspecified monetary damages after members staged a demonstration at the March 2006 funeral of his son.
The defense is appealing and the church’s leaders said the members would continue their pickets of military funerals.
In addition to church property, the filing lists assets for three church members also listed as defendants in the case – church founder Fred Phelps and his daughters, Shirley Phelps-Roper and Rebekah Phelps-Davis.
Phelps listed less than $1,000 in cash with most of his $231,129 net worth consisting of the home he shares with his wife. Phelps-Roper listed about $12,000 in cash, $35,000 in a retirement fund, $45,000 in cars and personal property, a $238,000 home and a $49,000 mortgage. Phelps-Davis listed $306 in her checking account, $20,000 in a retirement fund, $35,000 in personal property, a $146,000 home and a $65,000 mortgage.
All three listed credit card debt.
The church listed $19,000 in current debt, including credit cards. Phelps listed $2,000, Phelps-Roper $10,000 and Phelps-Davis listed $4,000 in current debt and $25,000 in notes payable.
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