Wednesday, November 28, 2007

I Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest

Happy Holidays Everyone!

There is a truly magical place on the internet where one can step through his/her monitor and find an exotic world where reality is suspended; a place where Standard English is turned upside down; a Dictionopolis where dictionaries are rewritten every day to fit the needs of the current discussion. A place where the wise are foolish and the foolish are wise; a place where college educated men and women with degrees in law and science and medicine can be humbled by grand wizards who speak a special magical language with words that mean precisely the opposite of the user's intended meaning.

Welcome the bizarre world that is the Opine Editorials.

After I wrote my piece titled, "WWJD" I was approached by Opine Editorials blogger "On Lawn" and asked if we could talk, to work out our mutual differences. In the spirit of good will I went to Opine Ed and attempted to reach out and make a difference to our adversaries. Knowing that a sideshow would be the likely outcome I still went and gave an honest attempt to breach the gap between our two camps. I have to give much credit to both Fannie and Jane Know for their heroic efforts as well, but all was in vain when it came to meaningful dialog. Still, the effort alone yields its own reward, so not only can I rest at night knowing that I kept my part of the bargain, I also know that the lurkers have had an opportunity to see for themselves what was said. So now, let's review what exactly happened.

The highlights of the thread written by On Lawn:

"Every now and again something more concrete..." This dismissive comment comes in the thread itself. (We haven't even started talking yet, and already the disparaging comes)

"Do you (individually) think it reasonable to expect the government to support a program (marriage) that..." (An attempt to say because I am for marriage equality, I am against marriage)

"Would you, once you've re-made marriage..." (An attempt to inject that marriage equality is a re-make of marriage, and pass it off as an assumption for all parties)
"...your chosen lifestyle..." (An attempt to inject the idea that being gay is a choice as an assumption into the conversation)

"Lets take this road of mutual understanding to its peaceful ends..." (Mordred: "Father, let us embrace!")

Things were said like "John Hosty has given us a message of love, happiness and charity. A very good lesson that I hope everyone contemplates", and "It is time that love conquered all. John, lets meet at the table and work this thing out then, okay?". Also at the beginning of the thread were some direct questions for me to answer, so I dove in and answered each one.

Then the shit comments start flying ( here are some "fun" quotes to contemplate):

"When it comes to sex, men and women are not equal." (Now remember, the article I wrote was about Christian responsibility to act Christian. This comment fits in how?)

"Women need the self confidence in themselves..."

"...responsibility of of a man to support and care for his family..."

"...modern day nightmare."

"It isn't that women and children are 'moot' in your marriage, it is that you really don't have a marriage despite the bells and whistles and a piece of paper."

"This isn't what I or you think, this is about what I do. What we think is irrelevant. It is about objective action, not thought. I engage in activity that as a matter of biology may bring children on to this earth. This is about what happens when men and women abandon their responsibility to children."

"You don't care about anyone but yourself." (See above)

"Maybe we need to reflect on our Baptismal Rites.... and reject Satan's false promises." (Now I am equated to the Devil)

"I'm really not against you John." (See above)

"There is nothing simple about being a single mother."

"Marriage ... is about children."

" is is about being prudent in understanding how men's and women's bodies work..."

On Lawn:

"...marriage expects equal gender representation"


"your self-centered viewpoint"

"...children have a right to their heritage -- to know who their parents really are." (They won't know this if GLBT people are allowed to marry?)

"...parents should respond to that right by committing to each other and their children in marriage before engaging in pro-creative acts." (So not only can GLBT not get married, straight people can't have sex before marriage?)

"...I am asking is that you recognize their rights..." (And deny your own)

"...marriage recognizes their children's rights..."

"...the special role that procreation has in society."

"You, for instance, would make a great father, I'm sure."

"...but a real husband..." (Like I'm not one currently)

"...there is no oppression of homosexuality..." (Are the alarm bells ringing?)

"...based on some notion of who they "are" rather than what they can accomplish." (You don't have to be gay if you just try harder)

"...look around you in Massachusetts. It has a thriving baby manufacturing industry..."

"...Marriage is between a man and a woman..."

" Massachusetts that definition is neutered..." (Does that mean it won't hump your leg?)

"...birth certificates -- which were meant to record an event, became children's registration cards.. Parent-A and Parent-B.." (Because they were so sacred before)

"...homosexuality is never engaged in to have children." (So THAT'S what we're doing wrong!)

"Surely you came prepared to discuss the needs of people other than yourself too, no?"

"Start showing respect, because that is what we have done, for you."

"Yet you have not replied to these concerns."
"Do you really think that concern for children is a ploy? A manipulation with hidden agenda to hurt gays?" (Is this a trick question?)

"Do you really think these talking points...are just debate acrobatics?" (funny you should ask...)

"Clearly we cannot progress when you treat our concerns so rudely"

" I remind you to come to this discussion in mutual respect, and remember mutual means two-way."

"Have we not addressed your concerns?"

"...then we can agree that these questions are to get your opinion and nothing more."

"How would your opinion on these matters fragment the conversation anyway? You tell me :)"

"I cannot offer solutions to a problem I have yet to get to the bottom of."

"Please answer the questions..."

"At my work, I have found that the first item to is to identify the problem. Then to solve a problem one must also identify how you can know the problem is solved."

"But on the subject of Civil Unions and DP's I have expressed concern that they are, especially for the GLBT who are calling for equality, overly exclusive and unjustly discriminating against other banded family situations."

"Are you going to pretend that the concerns have not been brought up?"

"Again, read the comment above that you are struggling with."

"Come back to the table..." (As if I had gone somewhere)

"...will you release the comment I placed at your site?"

"Remember we are all in this together."

"At this point you have abandoned the attempt to make peace."

"And intimating at some hidden and unnamed insult." (How could I derive anything insulting from what has been said?!)

"You are taking a peace process and playing both victim, and judge. That is no way to breed mutual respect Mr Hosty."

"you are simply afraid of seeing the concerns others"

"You have been behaving selfishly"

"You have to admit, you were unprepared to show concern." (This is the part where I think he might have been looking in a mirror when he thought this)

"You were asked to see concerns, and started struggling. You continued to ask that we see only your concerns, that the others were distracting you."

"If you are offended by that, I cannot put it any more politely."

"If by offended you mean you acted rashly, and selfishly, and it has turned to casting you negatively, I can only offer that we are judging actions and not you."

Fitz said:

"Wait a minute.Is John Hosty of KnowThyNeighbor really asking, “What Would Jesus Do”? (Because KTN people are heathens for trying to take our white hoods off. That's right, I said it. I use my REAL NAME because I am proud of what I stand for, and I have the courage to say so. Not a damn one of the Opiners wants ANYONE to know their true identity. Much evil can be done, and is, under the cloak of anonymity.)

Sorry folks, I have to get up from the dissection table and walk away from this mess. I think this was enough for you to get a full whiff of their brotherly compassion smells like. For the Full Monty feel free to read the complete thread and comments at Opine Editorials.

Opiners, you have asked me questions that you think you already have the answer to, then waited for my answer so you can show me how wrong I am. This is an obvious sign of someone who is thinking as an adversary rather than as someone in a co-operative effort. Even if you deny this to the day you die, it is as plain as day to all that read it, so I'll let the comments speak for me.

Why all the hostility? When I went back to read the post for an analysis, it made even less sense, and seemed more caustic when reading it again after a few days of reflection.

OK, so I'm divorced. Now what? Does your morning cereal taste better today? Where is the all important benefit you fight so hard for that I am supposed to give up my marriage to accommodate your needs? Do you really think that because I got married to a man, your kids are going to forget how to "do it", then the human race will cease to exist? I suspect you think no such thing. What is more likely, from my experience, is that you think vile and unintelligent things about GLBT people, so you want to control their perceived impact on society. You don't want our relationships dignified in the same way as yours simply because you disapprove.

Ever hear of a land of free people called America? Last time I checked my inalienable right to the pursuit of happiness kicks the shit out of your right to dictate to me what my marriage should be. You have no more right over the word "marriage" than you do over the word "God". So take your opinions you wish to pass off as facts and sell them to whoever is foolish enough to buy them, because the kids of tomorrow aren't bringing this to their country.

A Straight Man Comes Out

Or "How I Became a Rowdy Citizen"

My own "coming out" was a process that took place over many years, and it seems to involve four major steps. The first was seeing homosexuality as simple ordinary. This was easy for me, but it came about in a rather strange way.

I was raised in a very strict Roman Catholic home, which has a lot to do with why I have never viewed homosexuality as anything other than a natural variant of human sexuality.

Think about that for a moment.

I just said that I view homosexuality as a natural variant of human sexuality BECAUSE of my strict Catholic upbringing. At this point you may properly ask what it is that I am smoking. You see, when I became a young teen, I would think of sex a fair amount of the time. In fact, all I had to do was hear or read certain words and I would think of sex; words like girl, skirt, leg, outboard motor, etc. But in my Catholic home anything that could even be remotely connected to sexuality was simply never discussed. So I had to learn on my own with no input from my caregivers.

The most influential source of my education was a weekly series of magazines called, "The Story of Life". It was a 53 week series that explained in clinical but readable detail everything about human life, love, and sexuality. One issue was dedicated to "Lovers of the Same Sex", and it dealt with the issue in a frank and totally non-judgmental manner. Since this was my only real source of information, I had no reason to think that there was a judgment to be made.

It is difficult to explain why the second step should be necessary, but while I could accept homosexuality as a natural and normal variant of human sexuality, intellectually, I could not comprehend how one could feel a sexual attraction to a memeber of the same sex. I guess I still can't, really, but for some reason seeing the effects of same sex attraction helped me see just how real it is.

As a teen (or very early 20's) I, and a few friends (one of whom is a lesbian), experimented with each each other to test our responses to same and opposite sex stimulation. I doubt anyone would want to hear details of such experimentation, but it was an eye-opener for me.

The third milestone was moving beyond seeing homosexuality in sexual terms and seeing it in terms of relationships.

I am ashamed to admit that until the Goodridge decision, I never gave even a moment's thought to gay relationships, especially with respect to marriage. My attitude towards Goodridge was pure indifference. It didn't affect me or my marriage in any way. My feeling was that is two people of the same sex want to marry, who the hell am I to even voice an opinion on the matter?
But then a backlash began. A petition to ban SSM by constitutional amendment was signed by enough voters to put the measure to a vote. As many as twenty states (insert real number here) passed constitutional amendments to ban SSM, and I was absolutely horrified by the rhetoric. The talk shows hosts, the religious press and even the Republican Party (that Party of cold sober realists who preach "rugged individualism" and "get the goverment of my back") became preachers of pure hate.

I had never been so disgusted by my countrymen or more ashamed of my nation.

I didn't feel like an American or a Christian anymore.

The idea that in these United States of America in 2007, that the people should vote on the civil rights of my fellow citizens has shocked me to core. And that the Party of Lincoln would lead the charge has changed me from a passive supporter to an outright activist.

And I have learned more about gay relationships; I started reading the testimonials of gay couples. I now know that gay relationships are identical to straight relationships in every pertinent way. And only then did I realize how much I take my own protections of marriage for granted.

And then there is step four.

I am a Christian. While I don't fit the mold well, as I have little use for organized religion and am somewhat agnostic in my view of Providence, I recognize that for millions, Jesus is a abundant source of comfort and provides a moral compass. It is of major importance to me to be able to show others that Jesus's message of love, tolerance and acceptance can not abide the bigotry expressed in the typical interpretation of Paul's sermons.

That final understanding of Jesus's complete and total acceptance came form my (on-line) association with the Rev. Dr. Jerry Maneker.

His blog is here:

Thursday, November 22, 2007


Matthew 25:37:40

'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?'

40"The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'

In the GLBT community one of the things that frustrates us is the astounding hypocrisy displayed by so called "Christian" leaders and followers. Christ was all about generosity, peace, compassion, and joy. So many people have fallen from these principles, yet still refer to themselves as followers of "The Way" as it was called in Christ's time. The cold rejection of a stranger for his differences to me sounds more like the work of something far short of God's divine plan. It's time we set the record straight (pardon the pun).

Christianity is not the ability to blindly follow. The religion teaches to be a loving, caring, compassionate contribution to society that makes the world a better place. As the living example Christ left us, Christians are to fill His shoes with their actions. So why do we find society having such trouble dealing with it's homosexual population? My personal observations lead me to conclude that there are a few bad people who understand the human dynamics of both fear and control, and they know how to use their understandings for their own benefit against those who trust them. There is an old saying I like to refer to;

God said to man, "I give you religion", to which the Devil replied, "Here, let me organize this for you".

Yes, I am no fan of organized religion, and I have found no burning desire to give up my individuality or self-expression at the direction of someone who is neither acting in my best interests nor by the true will of God.

If you can't understand the word of God is peace through reading the Bible, then put it down. Christianity did fine without it in it's early years. In fact, people were once condemned by the Church for possessing one. Open instead your heart and mind to unconditional love. I am told readily by my critics that God did not intend for all sins to be forgiven (even though God tells us so implicitly), and that some sins like homosexuality cross a line that calls for them to act harshly against their neighbor. Now we could bury this argument in a Bible quote slap fight like most arguments on this subject end up in, but let's for a moment suspend the usual prattle and go for the end game. What does this action accomplish? In no way does it spread any of the aspects of Christianity by acting this way (love, peace, joy), so how could this be God's will? The answer is simple, and you can find it in your heart; it is not His will.

Time and time again people have used God as an excuse to do terrible things, and as the age of information makes knowledge more wide spread we are able to see the scope of such actions. Where modern Christians fit into this picture remains to be seen. It is high time for the flock to lead their Church back to it's rightful path; one of peace, love, and joy through labors of love, not fear. Listen to your hearts and hear what it says when you walk past a man on the corner who is down on his luck. Does it tell you to fear him? Does it tell you not to trust him, or not to help him? Do you think these feelings come from God? When the Good Samaritan came across the injured man in his path, he thought not of himself, but rather the the stranger.

The ironic thing for me about all this is that the foundations of Christianity can make for a wonderful society WHEN ACTUALLY PRACTICED. The idea of living with love in your heart works for anyone regardless of their religious beliefs. There is nothing supernatural needed to be as kind to your neighbor as you would want them to be to you. There is nothing mysterious about the wisdom of finding previously overlooked flaws in how we live, and desiring to change those flaws for the betterment of all. Our country is founded on the idea that we can be as equals, and although we may be vastly different we can all live in peaceful harmony with mutual respect.

You get the respect you give, and therein lies part of the problem. Use your brains and think for yourselves. People should not be judged by things they have no control over, like their sex, the color of their skin, or their sexual orientation. Yet for some reason people are having the darnedest time understanding right from wrong because of those who would capitalize on someone else's suffering. Does that sound like something you want to be a part of, creating suffering for someone you've never met? Do you have all the understanding and compassion of an IRS auditor? No, most people are simply skimming over the facts on this issue, and have never really brought home the true impact of their actions and inaction.

It is in the spirit of unconditional love that I keep my efforts alive to reach out to those who have lost their way from that path. My life is filled with love and joy, and all I want for my neighbors is to feel that same way, and I don't mind going out of my way to help them reach this goal. That's not to say it is easy, nor that the effort to be graceful is always successful. We are human, and we need to first forgive ourselves of our own short-comings, then forgive others as we would want to be forgiven. I see those who would turn their backs on someone they consider a sinner to be as much a sinner as those they accuse. Judgmental people need to be saved from themselves.

In my opinion, the fight for equality has already been won through the next generation. In their eyes I see the wisdom needed to separate the wheat from the chafe when it comes to what values that will remain instilled. Values will stand on their own merit, or not at all. We will see an end to widespread thinking along the lines of "All black people are "_______", or "All gay people are "______". Instead, they will judge people by their actions and intents, which is the way of the just. The war against all forms of unjust discrimination will be ended by those who walk the Earth today. My new goal is the attempt to reach the lost ones, and bring them back to the Shepherd.

"...preaching love and peace, yet practicing hatred and violence, claiming fidelity to the Constitution, yet systematically abrogating the rights of other citizens. Their record seems one of moral bankruptcy and staggering hypocrisy." -Congressional report on the KKK circa 1973

In 1987 Mobile Alabama, while before the judge and jury, Tiger Noles begged the grieving mother of Micheal Donald to forgive him for his hate. The old woman stared silently at the young white man who had killed her son in a violent and torturous way, rocking back and forth in her seat gently until she spoke. "I already have" was all she said. That loving act produced a ripple effect of good will that radiated out from the ugliness of evil, and there was not a dry eye in that courtroom according the the testimony. Of all places, it was a Southern jury that awarded Mrs. Donald more than seven million dollars at the expense of the KKK, taking the legs out from under the most powerful form of organized hate in America.

The principle of using fear and hatred to control others will never fade, so we have to be vigilant to recognize hate when we see it, no matter what form it comes in. For those of you who will never be convinced that LGBT people can be a healthy and productive part of society because it goes against the Bible, I say stick to the basics first, and learn to live with peace, love, and joy in your own hearts before you come to take the splinter out of my eye. You also might want to consider the ramifications God gave you for being wilfully negligent in your duties to spread His true will;

Matthew 25

41"Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.'

44"They also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?'

45"He will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.'

Where the effort in my opinion has been sorely lacking, I hope that more than a few of you out there start asking yourself what your Christian responsibility is to spread peace, love, joy, and compassion to those whom with you disagree.

"Be the change you wish to see in the world." ~Ghandi

It is by the love of our parents and God almighty we are born into this world, and it is through love that the devisive issues put before us are solved. Love conquers all, and it is about time that people start spreading it more readily.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Where is the Joy?

Over at Fallacy Findings, Jane know has an outstanding post. You should read it, and you should read her often, as she is one the most insightful people on the planet.

She touches on a lot of things in this post, but the one I want to focus is this:

Why are the anti-gay crusaders, supposedly with God on their side, so angry and joyless?

I understand the mind of fundamentalist because I've been there.

I wasted two to four years of my life, years that could have, should have, been the best years of my life under the spell of Jehovah's Witnesses.

Now, Jehovah's Witnesses are a bit different than the AFA's brand because they are not politically active, but the mindset is the same.

It's not that they can't feel joy, because they certainly can. But the only joy that they can experience is by doing things that they feel glorify their God. And I can appreciate that; I remember well the exhilarating thrill of heartfelt worship.

And if that is as far as they took it, I would have no objection, and I would do nothing the diminish their joy. But that is not as far as they take it because ultimately, their philosophy is based on fear; fear of the Lord.

So when Jane says:

"Our anti-gay opponents are so concerned that the U.S. is going to hell in a handbasket, they are so pessimistic about human nature, I feel they often don't stop to see what they really do have. And oftentimes, that is (or, as we are led to believe) wonderful, loving spouses and children.

If they are so happy with their own lives, why are they so set on attacking other people? Why are they focused on turning gay people into the "enemy of Christianity?" Why, if they are so happy and loving, do they need to scapegoat other groups of people who have nothing to do with their lives or their problems?"

Ultimately, they believe that if we, as a nation, do not glorify the Lord in everything we do, then God will, at best, lift His veil of protection from this nation. At worst, He will destroy us, as he did Sodom and Gomorrah. This is a sincerely held belief.

And deep in the bowels of their Christian Nation mindset, lies a very ugly truth to which they are blind. The nation which they believe God so richly blessed, beginning, in their warped view of history in 1620, was a nation that practiced slavery, denied political rights to all but land-owning white, Christian men. A nation whose marriage laws placed women under the cloud of coverture. And yet it is that nation that they believe God has blessed, and it is the 21st century nation of relative peace and unprecedented prosperity that they fear has angered God.

So, yes indeed, they are suffering.

Monday, November 12, 2007


Partnership will improve exchange of law enforcement information

BOSTON – Monday, November 12, 2007 – Lieutenant Governor Tim Murray and Secretary of Public Safety and Security Kevin M. Burke today signed an understanding between the Commonwealth and the government of Quebec to enhance security and public safety.

The Lieutenant Governor and Secretary Burke joined Quebec Deputy Premier Nathalie Normandeau and Minister of Public Security Jacques P. Dupuis in Quebec City today at the signing to establish a partnership and cooperative exchange of law enforcement information that is important to both Quebec and the Commonwealth’s public safety priorities.

“I am pleased to be here in Quebec to sign this important public safety understanding with our neighbors,” said Lieutenant Governor Murray. “Coordinating and sharing information with them can only make us safer.”

The understanding publicly expresses the commitment of both Massachusetts and Quebec to share information that allows public safety professionals to operate more effectively. When law enforcement information is requested by one party, the other discloses the information as soon as possible or indicates why it cannot be shared.

“The necessity to share information became vitally important following the attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001,” according to Secretary Burke. “We and Eastern Canada are concerned about public safety internally and at our borders and the signing today symbolizes our being on one accord.”

The Quebec and Massachusetts governments have worked closely on security matters in the past. The understanding signed is one of three such understandings that publicly memorialize both parties’ intention to collaborate in support of public safety. In July 2000, during the 25th annual Conference of the New England Governors and the Eastern Canadian Premiers, both governments expressed their intensions to expand their collaboration in the area of emergency preparedness in the International Emergency Management Assistance Memorandum of Understanding. In September 2003, during the 28th annual Conference, both governments formalized their commitment to share information and intelligence on security, terrorism and organized crime in resolution 28-2.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Lori Ehrlich For State Representative

This is a portion of an article that ran on

Also in the race officially is Marblehead resident Lori Ehrlich, who planned to launch her campaign with a short speech Wednesday afternoon at King’s Beach on the Swampscott-Lynn line. Ehrlich is perhaps best known as the co-founder of two environmental non-profit organizations, HealthLink and the Wenham Lake Watershed Association, the latter of which cleaned up pollution to a water source for 80,000 people in Salem, Beverly and parts of Wenham.

Ehrlich has also been a practicing CPA for the last 22 years, working with local businesses.

“I’m used to listening and giving advice on tax matters; it is a natural fit for me to listen and giving advice on policy matters,” she said.

In addition to her accounting degree from Lehigh University, Ehrlich attained her master’s degree in public administration from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government in 2005.

Ehrlich said she enrolled in the Kennedy School not with an eye on elective office but to become a “more effective policy advocate.” She was, however, chosen for a program for women who might one day like to enter the political arena entitled, “From Harvard Square to the Oval Office.”

Twice elected as a delegate to the Massachusetts Democratic Convention, Ehrlich notes that she has “worked with four governors.” She was appointed to Gov. Mitt Romney’s 10-member environmental policy transition team in 2002 and served on Gov. Deval Patrick’s energy and environmental policy team during the campaign.

A regular guest lecturer at Salem State College, Harvard University and Endicott College, Ehrlich served as convocation speaker at the Governor’s Academy this past year and has been asked to speak in a number of different venues, including to the Northshore Computer Society about her successful blog,

Ehrlich also takes pride in the “Real World Fridays” program she helped being to Marblehead Middle School. The program, which has since been incorporated into the curriculum as the “EDU block,” brought professionals from the community into the classroom to share the benefit of their experience.

Ehrlich has ties to all three communities she would potentially represent, she added. She attended Marblehead schools through fifth grade, moving to Swampscott midway through her sixth-grade year and graduating from Swampscott High in 1981. Her mother, Diana Litman, still lives in the Swampscott home where she grew up. Born at Lynn Hospital, Ehrlich has a number of clients in Lynn, she added.

“The communities in the district all have a similar interest in maximizing state aid,” she said. “There’s no reason why we all can’t work together to get every last possible dollar of local aid we can.”

I have spoken with Ehrlich directly and she is also an unwavering supporter of equality. With her education, determination, and compassion she seems to make a spectacular candidate. To know more about some of work visit her website

Friday, November 02, 2007

Fred Phelps AKA "" Loses Civil Suit

By Matthew Dolan and Julie Bykowicz (

A Baltimore federal jury awarded nearly $11 million Wednesday to the father of a Marine killed in Iraq, deciding that the family's privacy had been invaded by a Kansas church whose members waved anti-gay signs at the funeral.

It was the first-ever verdict against Westboro Baptist Church, a fundamentalist Christian group based in Topeka that has protested military funerals across the country with placards bearing shock-value messages such as "Thank God for dead soldiers."

They contend that the deaths are punishment for America's tolerance of homosexuality and of gays in the military.

Relatives of Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder wept and hugged at the jury's announcement, which came a day after closing arguments in the civil trial in federal district court.

"Now I know it's going to be harder for them to do it to anyone else," said Albert Snyder, who mourned at his son's funeral in March 2006 while seven Westboro members waved signs nearby.

The compensatory damage award alone, $2.9 million, was nearly triple the net worth of Westboro and the three members on trial, their attorney said.

Fred W. Phelps Sr., Westboro's founder, vowed to appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, in Richmond, Va.

"It's going to be reversed in five minutes," he said. This case, he added, "will elevate me to something important," as it draws more publicity to his cause.

The jury found the defendants liable for violating the Snyder family's expectation of privacy at the funeral and for intentionally inflicting emotional distress.

Snyder's lawsuit spurred a constitutional debate over how far the First Amendment should extend to protect the most extreme forms of expression.

Some legal experts said the judgment could be a setback for those who believe in broad free-speech protections.

"I think when speech is a matter of public concern it still has to be protected, even when by social standards it is extraordinarily rude and outrageous," said UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh.

University of Maryland law professor Mark Graber said the size of award, which included $8 million in punitive damages, could have a chilling effect on speech.

"This was in a public space," Graber said "While the actions are reprehensible, the First Amendment protects a lot that's reprehensible." After the verdict, Phelps and his two daughters named in Snyder's lawsuit said they believed that it was really their religious beliefs that were on trial.

"The goofy jury threw a fit at God," Phelps said.

For years Westboro members have crisscrossed the country, turning somber funerals of soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan into attention-grabbing platforms to criticize homosexuals as immoral and damned. The church's 75-member congregation is composed mainly of Phelps' relatives.

The group also blames disasters, including Hurricane Katrina, the Sept. 11 attacks and AIDS, on what it views as permissive morals in violation of biblical dictates.

Alarmed by Westboro protests, at least 22 states have proposed or enacted laws to limit the rights of protesters at funerals. Only months after Matthew Snyder's death, Maryland passed a law prohibiting targeted picketing within 300 feet of a funeral, burial, memorial service or funeral procession.

The courtroom fight came down to whether Westboro had a legal right to demonstrate at Snyder's funeral or whether the protesters crossed the line because their message impugned the grieving family's reputation and unlawfully invaded the Snyders' privacy.

The Marine's father, a 52-year-old who lives in York, Pa., sued the church and three of its members, founder Phelps and two of his daughters, Rebecca Phelps-Davis and Shirley Phelps-Roper.

On Fred Phelp's website we found this smarmy comentary on the verdict:

Thank God for the $10.9 Million Verdict!
In His compassion, for the last 17 years, God has sent His servants – the apple of His eye -
from this humble little church, to warn you DAILY to flee from the wrath to come. You –
Doomed America – have mocked, vilified, prosecuted, persecuted, sued, and otherwise
abused His ambassadors (2Chronicles 36:16). You have done it despite all of your laws, and
your great flowery words about freedom! You have done it against your own interest, Doomed
America! You have tried to destroy the church of God, misusing all of the powers of
government, even while God has daily sent you adumbrations of His wrath. You have torn to
shreds the First Amendment, in an effort to silence the Word of God, which reeks of death to
you! (2Corinthians 2:16)
Through all of these efforts, you have accomplished only one thing – your dark, hateful hearts
have been hardened by the God that made you, and put the breath of life into your nostrils.
The standard of God has not changed! Your children, whom God has bereaved you of, are
still dead, and more are slaughtered each day! America is still doomed! Katrina still
happened! California is still on fire! Dramatically worse, and more is coming! What you did
NOT do is silence the preaching of God’s servants in the earth! We will continue to warn you
of your impending doom as long as our God gives us breath. Not only did you fail to stop
our preaching, but our message has gone forth to the ENTIRE WORLD on this day,
because of your folly, like never before! Thank God for the $10.9 Million Verdict!

It seems that Phelps has forgotten the most important aspect of Christianity; love. Nothing is so powerful it can stand against love, not even a has been hater who is about to lose all he has because he can't deal with diversity. I can't help but feel sad for people like Fred. I wonder regretfully how much good a man of his energy could have done if it were focused on healing instead of hurting people.