October 7th, 2010
10:15 AM ET

Snyder: Pastor Phelps' actions 'cause emotional stress'

It is an emotional battle at the Supreme Court of the United States, pitting free speech, no matter how vile and hate-filled against the right to privacy.

Al Snyder is suing Pastor Fred Phelps for protesting at his son’s funeral, Lance Cpl. Mathew Snyder. Al was inside the supreme court when arguments were made and talks to John Roberts on American Morning.

John Roberts: So take us into the Supreme Court. What's your sense of the arguments that you heard? Many people who were there believe that it looks like the justices sort of would like to help you out, but their hands may be tied by the first amendment?

Albert Snyder: Well, I don't think their hands are tied by the first amendment because there's no such thing as absolute free speech. As far as in the courtroom, you know, the big thing that they went over was pride of a public figure. Well, there's no way I was a public figure at the time.

When the Phelps get up there and talk and says I gave all of these interviews before they did this to me and I talked about the war. And I called and talked to John Murtha, well, they're all wrong. I gave a couple interviews to my local paper. And I called John Murtha to see if he could find out for me what happened in that vehicle accident. I didn't call him to protest the war or anything else. And one of the articles they may have asked me, you know, what I thought about the war. And I said, I thought it was senseless. But, you know every parent that loses a child, somebody from that family gives a statement because your local papers want to know.

Roberts: Sure. Absolutely.

Snyder: If they're going to count that as being a public figure, its not going to be bought by the U.S. Supreme Court, I don't think.

Roberts: What are the issues being talked about the witnesses watching the hearings yesterday or hearing about them, the idea of equal application of the first amendment. For example ... if there had been a group there demonstrating in support of the military, would they have been welcome?

Snyder: Yes. This was for friends and family. And its a time for people to be remembered and honored for what they did. That's what the tradition of funerals is about. I mean, for them - the thing that just strikes me absolutely amazing is they're saying there are two groups of protesters there besides them. The one group was the patriot guard which came because of them.

Roberts: Yeah.

Snyder: And the other group that was there was the parochial school children lining the driveway with American flags saying we love you.

Roberts: The argument is that the first amendment has to be applied equally. And if you didn't want the protesters against the military there, then the other people who are demonstrating in favor of the military shouldn't have been there either.

But Ruth Bader Ginsburg articulated the difficult points of law here. She said that the protesters weren't breaking any laws even under the current Maryland funeral picketing statute that was passed. But she said, why should the first amendment tolerate exploiting this bereaved family when you have so many other forums for getting across your message? I think the real crux of the sergeant here was, what they did might have been terribly offensive, but was it illegal?

Snyder: It might not have been illegal, but it did cause emotional stress and emotional damage. And, you know, you have to look at this as tort law, too. There's a lot involved in this, just other than free speech. You know, it gets me so much, John, when I hear these people say, well, this is what your son died for. You know, you didn't know my sons, so don't tell me what he died for, first of all. But no soldier or veteran goes into the military and takes an oath that it's okay to target an innocent family and harass them.

And it wasn't just about them showing up at the funeral. It was about what they did before and after the funeral. Two days before that funeral, they sent out notices to press and emerge - you know, the authorities. This notice had matt's picture on it. It has a military coffin. Underneath it, it's burial of an ass. Then it went on to say we'll be protesting at St. John's Catholic dog kennel.

Roberts: Wow.

Snyder: I knew they were go to come there. They stood 30 feet from the main vehicle entrance of the church, and what the vehicle procession had to be rerouted, we still came within 300 feet of the church.

Roberts: Well, this is a very important case regarding free speech. We're definitely watching this very closely. We're not expecting a decision for months, though.

Snyder: Just remember, John, the slippery slope can go either way.

Roberts: Al Snyder, thanks so much for being with us this morning. And we do appreciate your loss and I just can't imagine what it would be like as a family to go through something like that. Thanks for joining us this morning.

Snyder: Thank you, John.

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soundoff (207 Responses)
  1. diana brest

    i fell all veterans have a right to be buried wherever the family wants, and no churches have the right to deny it, but, why
    doesn't the family bury the son at a va cemetery and it is a benefit from the va, and, have the military guards there?

    October 7, 2010 at 10:40 am | Report abuse |
    • CBC

      And what does your comment have to do with this story?

      October 7, 2010 at 10:57 am | Report abuse |
    • yeager

      It's not the military guard, it's the Patriot Guard. it's a BUNCH of motorcyclists from around the country that provide a barrier between Phelps's lunatics and grieving familys of veterans. It's a show of support but also a great shield.

      October 7, 2010 at 11:06 am | Report abuse |
    • Brandon

      Diana,
      Your statement, while true, does not always meet the family's wishes. Veteran or not, to many people, being buried with or near family is important. Also, even at VA cemeteries, Military guards do not exist as you may think. There are many other areas that have required presence of military personnel. Even if guards were posted, they couldn't engage with protesters. That is why the Patriot Guard is such an important organization...not all members are military, most are either retired military, or have never served. Their presence (upon request of the family only) at a funeral is to keep protesters at an acceptable distance from the funeral and family. God Bless the Patriot Guard.

      October 7, 2010 at 11:07 am | Report abuse |
    • Brandon

      maybe because of the price, or maybe they want the grave closer to home.

      October 7, 2010 at 11:07 am | Report abuse |
    • John

      VA cemeteries are great, but WHAT military guards? Those cemeteries are just as public as other cemeteries.

      October 7, 2010 at 11:26 am | Report abuse |
    • Michele

      As the mother of a soldier who will be going back to Afghanistan for his second tour, if something were to happen to him and he was unable to return the same way he left, I would want my son to be buried near me so I can visit him as much as possible. That is part of the grieving process and will help me accept the loss. I would not want to go clear across the country or even to the next county to visit him. As for the patriot guard, they are veterans that gather to honor soldiers. I am a Blue Star mom and hope that I would never become a Gold Star mom. When soldier come home on leave or return from a deployment these incredible ladies and gentleman welcome them back with a small parade and then hold a prayer and sing "Im proud to be an american". I am an athiest and this still brings me to tears because of the love I feel coming from these incredible people. As for the pastor, I would dare him to come to AZ to protest a military funeral. I just might have to have a few signs of my own. After all the bible says that children out of wedlock is a sin and yet his wife has a child from another man out of wedlock. Perhaps if we did like him, we should stone her to death!

      October 7, 2010 at 1:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jenny

      I believe what you may not realize is that most Veterans cemeteries have a rotunda which is more often used for the burials only and they work in conjunction with whatever civilian funeral home the family selects. If the family wishes to have a receiving of friends or funeral, those services are conducted at whatever funeral home and/or religious center the family chooses. There is usually no military guard at any of the Veterans cemeteries I'm familiar with. The employees there are civilians who go about the business of honoring the family's wishes regarding interment. That is the reason for groups like the Patriot Guard Riders and any other patriotic groups who will make themselves available to be a buffer for the family.

      October 7, 2010 at 2:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • Darrell

      The LAW in TEXAS reads: (b) A person commits an offense if, during the period beginning one hour before the service begins and ending one hour after the service is completed, the person engages in picketing within 1,000 feet of a facility or cemetery being used for a funeral service.

      October 7, 2010 at 2:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rose Corr

      It is harassment. As a mother of a soldier who lost his life in Op Iraqi Freedom, and a daughter of a WWII Silver Star Medal Recipient with two Purple Hearts – I am appalled at the protesting outside a military funeral. Military Families have given more than most for the greater good of our society. It is not only the soldier, but his friends, family and community who share the burden our Country has requested. It is our solemn duty as Citizens to protect and support the rights of those who have served. I believe punitive measures are required. Perhaps the protesters can be assigned a duty where they have to serve the community for the same length of time our soldiers have signed up for – 6 years.

      It is sad that we need to instill a measure of decorum for the families of those who have made the ultimate sacrifice on our behalf of the US. This begs to be legislated!

      Rose Corr
      Gold Star Mother

      October 7, 2010 at 2:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • TNRN

      The entire pack of Phelps animals needs to be put out of our misery. This family loves the publicity generated by their sick diatribe. They spew out every inflammatory comment they can think of in an attempt to elicit a response in the vacinity and inevitably when someone reacts (appropriately) by physically or verbally assaulting one of the Phelps animals, they sue, and usually win. This is how they support themselves. They adhere to the letter of the law, and use their pitbull, Shirley Phelps, to wrangle a payday. Even Mr.Snyder has been ordered to reimburse their legal fees in the past.

      I am a USN Vet and the thought of these animals protesting a military funeral makes me sick. I understand Free Speech but there is truly a line that and harrassment. The Phelps clan of animals cross that line regularly.

      The Patriot Guard are a wonderful organization that I am proud to be a member of. They ONLY go to funerals where their presence is requested and Only to provide a buffer between protestors & show support and respect for the families and deceased. My motorcycle and me will continue to provide this service as long as we are needed.

      October 7, 2010 at 3:27 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Ronnie

    The Phelps clan do not deserve free speech. I consider their hate speech as an assault against America and the entire family should be put down like a rapid dog.

    October 7, 2010 at 10:45 am | Report abuse |
    • a

      if i ever saw this phelps guy I would be hard pressed not to spit in his face. No one cares if your family is made up of professionals. You've just stated that you hate America. Why should America lend you any of the rights that you think you deserve. You are the enemy. You are satan. You, mr phelps, are gay. Burn for eternity

      October 7, 2010 at 11:02 am | Report abuse |
    • ROCKWOOD

      No Ronnie.....I'm sorry to disagree with you, but the process of putting a dog down is far to humane for the Phelps clan. I really think airlifting them to a 'hot spot' in Afghanistan infested with Taliban, and dropping them off, with food and water and of course, the signs they carry, would be much more in lines of a suitable punishment. Help us, help us....scream the Phelps.......

      October 7, 2010 at 11:07 am | Report abuse |
    • Tim

      I agree with you, but what do you have against quick-moving dogs?

      October 7, 2010 at 11:19 am | Report abuse |
    • DownTownBrown

      It's interesting how fast right wingers turn on their beloved 1st amendment when it doesn't benefit them.

      You wanted free speech, well this comes with it.

      October 7, 2010 at 11:22 am | Report abuse |
    • r2chs

      I'm curious why the media ignores the fact that Pastor Phelps is also Attorney Phelps and his family "church" are also lawyers. There are a number of blog posts around the web about how they could be using this to generate civil lawsuits. Could this be a ruse for his law firm to generate lawsuits? If you wanted the best way to generate a sure thing lawsuit, what would you do? Building a First Amendment Case would seem like a sure thing so why not pick something that is so blatantly controversial that it is bound to generate negative response?

      October 7, 2010 at 11:30 am | Report abuse |
    • Dan

      First of all police support should have been there, I think there is a right to protest and freedom of speech should not be hindered. You may protest on the news, you may protest at 7-11 they have great coffee. But a funeral, of the boy or man that gave his life for your freedom. I have no issue saying that should be a jailable offense to the point of being considered a traitor to the US. There is a time and place and you can be heard on the city steps. At a funeral veteran or not is unacceptable for Americans to allow. Unfortunately the Liberals do not respect our children that fight for this country and so it's up to the rest of us to defend those that Serve.

      October 7, 2010 at 12:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • TruthHurts1227

      That statement is an insult to rabid dogs everywhere!

      October 7, 2010 at 1:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • c.m.

      Where does "Free Speech" end and "Bullying" begin? In the case with this "church", it looks more like bullying than free speech.
      There's a huge push toward stopping the bullying, yet, talking out of the other side of their faces, people are screaming for "Free Speech".
      So where does one end and the other begin?

      October 7, 2010 at 1:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • Just another Jarhead

      I believe the best punishment would to reinstate the draft with limitations. With that said...those limitations would be to draft only the Phleps familiy and give them a chance to fight for their right to free speech. They seem pretty tough and very exuberant. Just send them right into Afghan armed with their signs!

      October 7, 2010 at 1:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jonathan

      Someone just needs to punch Phelps in the face. Sure, you'll go to jail for maybe 12 hours and you'll be charged with assault. But I can't imagine any jury in the world convicting you of anything.

      October 7, 2010 at 1:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • darkpoet

      Hey Ronnie check theses people out. They are NOT RIGHT WINGERS. People need to do some research on the Phelps. AL GORE stood with Fred in his run for senate in the early 90's. They are hard core left wing people. Just because they use religion against the people they are using it against the military! I'm sorry but no RIGHT WING group goes after the military.

      BTW Phelps ran as a democrat and got 31% of the vote. 31%!! They are against the MILITARY, GAYS, BLACKS, AMISH, JEWS, and America. Also Fred Phelps has written letters to Sadam Husien and also Fidel Castro thanking them for promoting Christianity! What RIGHT WING nut back supports Castro? NONE.. so once again get off the LEFT WING IS PERFECT HIGH HORSE and realize that this group is a FAR LEFT GROUP of nutbags. Both sides have them but the only reason why CNN is covering them is because they are LEFT WINGERS that are so far left they look like RIght Wingers

      October 7, 2010 at 3:23 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Seth Hill

    This article is very difficult to read – not because of the content, but because of the transcription. "For example, done want employee testers there." What? I guess CNN never heard of this job called an "editor?"

    October 7, 2010 at 10:47 am | Report abuse |
  4. Mike

    We do not have free speech in this country people. You cannot run into a movie theatre and scream "FIRE" when none exists can you? If you incite a riot you lose your right to free speech so no free speech really exists.
    Same here. If this "so called" pastor's actions incite violence then he has no right to his speech.
    This pastor is a disgrace to Christianity and should convert to atheism because he has no idea what Christ died for.

    October 7, 2010 at 10:52 am | Report abuse |
    • Justin

      As a representative of atheism, I can say that we don't want him!. Believe it or not, without the 10 commandments giving us a simplified set of rules to tell us what to do, we rely pretty heavily on a system of ethics and compassion. This guy doesn't seem to have either.

      October 7, 2010 at 11:14 am | Report abuse |
    • Nikki

      Well put Justin! I am not an athiest. I don' t consider myself anything, but I would hope that no group would want him. As human beings what we should believe in is ethics and compassion. Not freedom of speech. It's too bad that ethics and compassion were not the first amendment.

      October 7, 2010 at 11:56 am | Report abuse |
    • Dina K.

      Mike, that is exactly right! I sent that comment in last night to Cafferty, but my comment did not pass their "review." There are no absolute free speech rights in this country. You may not yell, "Fire!" in a theater, right-to-life activists are prohibited from protesting near abortion clinics, and when the President is in town, hecklers are placed miles away. People do not have the right to speak whenever and wherever they like – good or bad, that's the way it is. These "Baptists" are no excepton to our disturbing the peace laws and invasion of privacy laws and slander laws.

      October 7, 2010 at 11:56 am | Report abuse |
    • MK

      As a Christian, I think that it's important to point out that "pastor" Phelps and his "church" are not Christians. You will know a Christian by the love he/she shows for his fellow man (even his enemy) in his words and deeds. There is not love in Phelps' hate speech, and it directly contradicts everything that Jesus Christ stands for. God does not hate anyone or anything. He sent is only son to be tortured and murdered on the cross as the most loving sacrifice for our sins that anyone of us could imagine. So it bears repeating as much as possible – THESE HATE MONGERS ARE NOT CHRISTIANS.

      October 7, 2010 at 1:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • Just another Jarhead

      On a more serious note... The Phelps clan are not Christians... They are a Cult... They just need to hurry up and drink the Electric Kool-Aid!

      October 7, 2010 at 1:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • Brian

      Jarhead, They should drink the poison Kool-Aid not the electric kind. The electric kind will make them trip and maybe they will be enlightened. on second thought, maybe you are right.

      October 7, 2010 at 1:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • farquar

      He's a disgrace to the Human race and Human Beings everywhere.

      October 7, 2010 at 2:54 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Amy

    Disgusting to think that either an individual or a group would protest war at the funeral of a service member. Freedom of speech? Yes, go protest war. But being a member of a Church (a place to worship God)? I'm certain God is ashamed of your lack of conscious.

    October 7, 2010 at 10:53 am | Report abuse |
    • c.m.

      There has been a huge push toward stopping bullying in schools among our children. But apparently if you're an adult and you label the bullying, "Free Speech", then bullying is ok.
      AND it's even better if you can convince a JUDGE to call it "free speech" . The judge in this case needs to man up, and call this juvenile, abhorant behavior what it is: BULLYING.

      October 7, 2010 at 1:32 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Kevin

    They are the Patriot Guard, Diana. Older Vets with Harleys that honor any veteran young or old's death.

    October 7, 2010 at 10:55 am | Report abuse |
    • nvrunderstand

      maybe when phelps dies, we can all go and protest his funeral and throw one hell of a party? i would like to r.s.v.p right now!

      October 7, 2010 at 11:39 am | Report abuse |
    • Karla

      Kevin – not all Patriot Guard Riders (PGR) are veterans, and not all ride bikes. We also only attend funerals at the express invite of the family.

      October 7, 2010 at 12:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • Peter

      Not all PGRs ride Harleys.

      October 7, 2010 at 12:50 pm | Report abuse |
  7. A

    Mr. Snyder, my condolences to you and your family. I can't imagine what it must be like to not only lose a son but to have to deal with those hateful people. You are so brave. I know it won't bring your son back, but I hope you win this case. No one should have to go through what you went through with those terrible people and that bully of a Pastor. They should all be very ashamed of themselves.

    October 7, 2010 at 10:56 am | Report abuse |
    • Adrienne

      I agree A and I suggest that the Phelps' go read the Bible again. They missed some very important teachings. Like judge not and love thy neighbor as thyself. I'll pray for them.

      October 7, 2010 at 3:46 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Rose

    Why hasn't people went to thier church and homes and protested against them going to funerals?Why do they have "free right to assemble" but noone can assemble against what they are doing to stop this?

    October 7, 2010 at 10:56 am | Report abuse |
    • Joe from CT, not Lieberman

      Kind of hard to go to the Phelps' family church when the entire membership is made up of Phelps, his children and grandchildren.

      October 7, 2010 at 11:10 am | Report abuse |
    • lil'red1

      AMEN!!!! Maybe someone should start a BURN IN HELL PHELPS group. Then people can join, protesters could show up at PHELPS (and friends') work, home, school, etc.

      October 7, 2010 at 11:48 am | Report abuse |
  9. Greg

    This is not church. They may have freedom of speech, but they also have the right to be sued for the damage and the emotional stress they cause. Plus they also used this brave soldier's face on their flyer without the family's permission.
    They have every right to sue the crap out of this so called church!!!

    October 7, 2010 at 11:02 am | Report abuse |
    • redisgreat

      You do NOT have a RIGHT to be sued.

      October 7, 2010 at 5:20 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Rose

    What really ticks me off is Americans send thier children to fight for all of us and the govt hasn't made a law against these wicked things protesting at the funerals.The families should have freedom to bury a child without wicked people protesting.So the families freedom has been taken.

    October 7, 2010 at 11:04 am | Report abuse |
  11. Roger Baker

    @Fred Phelps (no idea if you are the real one or not but here goes)... You are a wolf hiding in sheeps clothing. You spread hate speech. God may not love the things that are going on but, he did NOT give you the right to be judge. You have no right judge these people. You have no right to stand and say you know what God thinks. It is dangerous ground you tread on when you believe you are the mouth peice of God. You sir, are not spreading his message of love. God does not expect us to agree with the ways of sin but, he does expect us to "Love our Neighbor", you show no love at all. I believe you are a very confused man. I challenge you to renounce the evil in your heart, repent, and be re-accepted by God. I fear you have created to many "stumbling boxes" to be redeemed, if you do not right the wrong you have caused.

    October 7, 2010 at 11:08 am | Report abuse |
    • groovygoober

      Romans 2:1-3

      Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things. Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God?

      Helpful Not Helpful
      Matthew 7:1-2

      “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.

      October 7, 2010 at 12:25 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Ken (Retired Army Guy)

    I gave 20 years of my life (literally half of my life by the time I retired) so that we can have the rights and freedoms that we all use everyday in this country. That being said, I believe I've earned the right to say the following:

    The Westboro Baptist 'church' isn't a church, it's a cult and a hate group.
    The members of this group aren't Christians, they're racist and hateful and stand against EVERYTHING that Jesus said to his followers.
    I refuse to call them Christians, because that's not what they are. They're fanatics, like Hitler or bin Laden. All of them have lost sight of what Christianity truly is.

    October 7, 2010 at 11:13 am | Report abuse |
    • Skegeeace

      Amen, brother.

      October 7, 2010 at 11:25 am | Report abuse |
    • Cindy

      Amen, Ken, and God bless you.

      October 7, 2010 at 11:26 am | Report abuse |
    • r2chs

      Its neither a cult or hate group. It's a law firm.

      October 7, 2010 at 11:37 am | Report abuse |
    • AngryFireFighter

      Ken, thank you for your service, I wish there could be more like minded people in the world, Great Post!!!!

      October 7, 2010 at 12:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • TexVet

      Jeez, hope nothing happens to these "christians" church!

      October 7, 2010 at 1:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • Gulielmo Cappucci

      Vile, wretched, bile of human existence. How they manage to hide behind the label of church amazes even Scientologists. Not me, but someone is going to put an abrupt end to this... I can see it already, and its not going to be pretty for the Westboro Church idiots. I will probably be making a donation to the solution's legal defense soon.

      October 7, 2010 at 1:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • farquar

      As a retired Air Force Guy I must say that your are 'right on' Ken.

      October 7, 2010 at 2:59 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Amanda

    Here is my problem with this situation. First of all, the things that Fred Phelps (I refuse to recognize him as a pastor because no true Christian leader would spew this bile) and his minions are spouting off cannot be considered protected free speech, because it is all hate speech, every letter of it, and should not be protected as such.

    Secondly, one of the messages Phelps is so fond of shouting to the masses is that "God hates America". Yet, now he claims that one of the great things about America is our 1st Amendment right to free speech. Yes, that is one of the great things about America; however, why is Phelps seeking protection under the the laws of a country he claims his "God" hates. Shouldn't he hate what his "God" hates (I put God in "", because the Christian God does not hate anyone. He hates sin, not the sinner; but that is a different issue).

    Finally, not only should the Supreme Court find in favor of Mr. Snyder and his family, but any organization such as Phelps should not be granted the status and priviledges of a church when they are clearly nothing better than a hate group, a borderline domestic terrorism organization. They should not be allowed to call themselves a church, because that is one thing they are not. I propose "Westboro KKK" or something of the like.

    October 7, 2010 at 11:16 am | Report abuse |
    • Gabie

      LOL! I agree entirely.

      October 7, 2010 at 12:06 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Texas Vic

    I'm sorry, but if that had been someone in my family being buried, I would have beat the crap out of some of those protesters.

    October 7, 2010 at 11:19 am | Report abuse |
  15. L

    Can't we all just be nice to each other???

    October 7, 2010 at 11:19 am | Report abuse |
    • john nukem

      No . For some reason , we cannot . Thanks for trying though .

      October 7, 2010 at 2:10 pm | Report abuse |
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