ARTICLE ID 158109
$________ INCLUDING $________ PUNITIVE AWARD - INTENTIONAL INFLICTION OF EMOTIONAL DISTRESS - FUNDAMENTALIST CHURCH DEMONSTRATE AGAINST HOMOSEXUALITY AT MARINE'S FUNERAL - MENTAL DISTRESS AND PUNITIVE DAMAGES CLAIMED.
Westminster County, Maryland
The plaintiff, the father of a young Marine killed in
Iraq, sued the defendant church and its members for emotional
distress caused by the churchs use of his sons funeral to
protest homosexuality. The defendants contended that their
conduct was protected by their rights of freedom of speech and
freedom of religion under the First Amendment.
The evidence revealed that the plaintiffs son, a 20-year-old
Marine, was killed in the line of duty while in Iraq. His funeral
was held at a Catholic church in his hometown in Maryland.
Members of a Kansas fundamentalist church, none of whom knew the
plaintiffs son, demonstrated at the funeral, using it as a forum
to protest homosexuality. They brandished signs stating, among
other things, "God hates America," "You are going to hell," and
"Semper fi fags." Several weeks after the funeral, the church
posted an "epic" video on its website claiming that the
plaintiffs son was raised for the devil and taught to defy God.
The plaintiff sued the defendants for non-economic damages under
Maryland state law claiming intentional infliction of emotional
distress, intrusion on seclusion and conspiracy. The plaintiff
testified, sometimes in tears, about his emotional and physical 3 3 reaction to the defendants demonstration at his sons funeral
and the story posted on the church website. Plaintiff presented
testimony from two experts, his treating physician and a
psychologist, as evidence that the defendants conduct caused him
depression, emotional distress, sleeplessness and anger.
The defendants claimed that their actions were constitutionally
protected free speech and the exercise of religion. They
presented expert testimony as to the "fire and brimstone" nature
of their religious beliefs. However, their expert did not testify
that the defendants choice to demonstrate at the plaintiffs
sons funeral had any religious or Biblical connection.
The jury awarded the plaintiff $2.9 million in compensatory
damages and $8 million in punitive damages. In post-trial
motions, the defendants moved to set aside the jurys verdict.
The trial court upheld the compensatory damage award, but reduced
the punitive damage award to $2.1 million, citing BMW of North
America, Inc. v. Gore, ________ SupCt ________ (________).