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. Easy

    Fred, no one cares what you think. You can jump and scream and holler but at the end of the day, you are the evil man that has twisted God's word to fit your own beliefs. Mr Snyder, I am sorry for your loss, we all appreciate the sacrifice your son made for his country, and best of luck in your fight against hateful ingorance.

    October 7, 2010 at 11:20 am | Report abuse |
  2. Brantley Hinshaw

    I hope someone will burn Westboro Baptist Church and Phelps's home in Topeka Kansas.

    October 7, 2010 at 11:20 am | Report abuse |
  3. Drew

    I can't wait to protest his funeral. Does Fred Phelps molest little boys? He might- but we'll never know.

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

      Drew, if you want some VERY interesting reading about fred phelps and his gulag, google him. He beat several of his kids AND his wife, although the ones not beaten will deny that. At least 3 of his kids were brave enough to leave the cult, one died of AIDS, and fred has a sister who won't speak to or of him until fred is dead. I think the minor grandchildren should all be taken and put up for state adoption so the brainwashing by fred stops. His "daughter" shirley pulls her minor child out of school for picketing "duty" and allows him to STOMP on the US flag.

      October 9, 2010 at 3:23 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Skegeeace

    If I were the father of that fallen soldier, I'd raise a buckshot eye level at that group of protesters and dare them to say a work against my kid. I don't tolerate that foolishness.

    October 7, 2010 at 11:24 am | Report abuse |
  5. L

    My question is Who brought these people up? And did NOONE teach them right from wrong or nice from not nice? It just makes me so sad that people can't be decent to one another. Someone DIED for crying out loud! It's not about the legalities...it's about common decency!

    October 7, 2010 at 11:26 am | Report abuse |
  6. TexVet

    Look at this orgs website..they spew hatred.

    October 7, 2010 at 11:27 am | Report abuse |
  7. Michael Kissner

    Another pathetic church group - hate and stupidity all rolled in to one bag of sleaze.But they get their TV fame. The father-daughter founders are a real trip and more amazing is they have followers. The good this group does is to reinforce my strong beliefs in our nation, the military and common decency. The SCOTUS decision should be fascinating.

    October 7, 2010 at 11:28 am | Report abuse |


    October 7, 2010 at 11:29 am | Report abuse |
  9. Chuck

    I am sure there is a special place in Hell for the Phelps.

    October 7, 2010 at 11:29 am | Report abuse |
  10. Me

    Let's not lose sight of the facts in this case. Phelps was 1000 feet away from the church. Snyder never saw him. The only way Snyder knew he was planning to come and was actually there was because of media coverage. Then, Snyder went searching on the Internet and read something on Phelps's web site that made him angry. Nobody forced him to do those things. Snyder has no claim here. Nobody forced him to watch the news stories. Nobody forced him to read Phelps's web site. Do we really want people to be able to go around suing people because they got their feelings hurt? I could say that some of the posts on this blog hurt my feelings – can I sue you? I willingly came to this site and read the posts – nobody forced me to.

    October 7, 2010 at 11:31 am | Report abuse |
    • Tiffany

      You are a heartless piece of sh#*.

      October 7, 2010 at 11:48 am | Report abuse |
    • Nikki

      I have a feeling you are part of the Phelp's family. God hates the Phelp's family. This family is the anti-christ. Not just one, but a group. They have protested the funerals of those fallen on the Minneapolis bridge, Kansas University Law graduation ceremonies. Mr. Phelps wrote a letter to Saddam Hussein commending him. Him and his daughter are banned from entering the U.K. He hates the Irish and Swedish, and fallen soldiers who fought in Iraq. Look Fred Phelps up on Wikipedia and read what a horrible person he is. God didn't create this family...if there is a God. He is a disbarred lawyer. Meaning he no longer is one. And for a good reason. Some day the entire family will pay for their hatred.

      October 7, 2010 at 12:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • groovygoober

      You can sue anyone at any time for anything.

      The question is, will the court accept the suit, and if so will you win the case?

      That's for the court to and/or jury to decide.

      So, if you feel that people here have hurt your feelings, then by all means sue CNN and us, you can do that.

      October 7, 2010 at 12:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • GB

      What you are describing may be the case for the actual funeral but it does not change the fact that the soldier's picture was used without the permission of the family and in a way which caused emotinal distress to the family.

      The only thing that I can say about Phelps is that he MUST be gay and trying to deny it since he protests too much besides being an evil spawn of satan. The church is not a church it is a cult.

      October 7, 2010 at 12:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • TexVet

      these people are not Christians! I just hoping nobody decides to do something against them......be a shame

      October 7, 2010 at 1:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • darkpoet

      yes because we all can't see more then 1000 ft or hear some retarded ( no offense to people born retarded and can't help it but these people choose to be) people yelling from 1000 ft away. 5,280FT is 1 Mile... you can still hear and see people from that far away.. so double that to 2 miles from ANY funeral and then the Phelps can yell and scream as much as they want cause that is their free speech right! On a personal note, we can always change that 2 mile rule to the bottom of a lake at least 20 ft deep and cement blocks tied to their feet and waist..... I think we all will be happy with that rule!

      October 8, 2010 at 6:35 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Susie

    Just because you have the right to do something doesn't mean it's the right thing to do.......I wish his web site provider would pull his site like the maniac in Gainesville with the Koran fiasco. It does nothing but spew hate. And it would be nice if the FBI paid this bunch a little visit like the Gainesville nut. I find what the WBC does as dangerous and offensive as the other cult.

    October 7, 2010 at 11:43 am | Report abuse |
  12. Floria sigmundi

    This guy is annoying he and his cult should just go away for good

    Check out this video on YouTube:


    October 7, 2010 at 11:51 am | Report abuse |
  13. NotWanted

    Free speech is one thing, but protesting at a funeral is disgraceful. It exposes Pastor Fred Phelps for the low life that he is.

    October 7, 2010 at 11:52 am | Report abuse |
  14. Fvck Phelps

    This guy and his congregation are a waste of space. Someone should destroy them, it's obvious they are ready to go to heaven since things are so terrible here on Earth.

    October 7, 2010 at 11:56 am | Report abuse |
    • Mad in Omaha

      I agree and it's a wonder no body has done the suicide bomber bit on them yet. Ship the lot of them to the war so they can be front and center to stop it or help it so then we can shoot them.

      October 7, 2010 at 1:50 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Rob

    I hope I'm around when this piece if sh!# dies. His funeral will be a celebration, I'll bring the champagne!

    October 7, 2010 at 12:02 pm | Report abuse |
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