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. Mark

    After reading this story your whining has caused me emotional stress. Every one who listens to your crying should sue you for the same reason. Grow a set and get over it you pansy! Free speech is Free speech. We dont have to like it, but we do have to tolerate it.

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

      Perhaps, Mark, you could use a little more class when putting your opinion forward. If you think that expressing frustration in an interview over your dead son's funeral being protested is "pansy-ass"...well ok...but couldn't you think of a nicer way to explain yourself to him?

      October 7, 2010 at 12:41 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Gabie

    This is disgusting and makes religion look beyond bad. SCREW YOU BAPTIST CHURCH!

    Oh, and CNN. You made a typo on the video by saying "Bapitist" instead of "Baptist"

    October 7, 2010 at 12:04 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Debbie

    So if I have this right–the protesters are going to keep doing this until the U S stops all abortions and locks up all gay people?
    And anyone being buried even if they aren't gay and haven't had anything to do with abortion is the potential target of their hatred?
    And this is the way they want to influence American laws.
    Very bizarre.

    October 7, 2010 at 12:11 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Karen

    Tax exempt status status should be revoked for this 'church'. What this garbage did at this man's funeral is a travesty. This group of cruel and mindless should be made to reimburse all the funeral costs. If they are not properly dealt with the public should organize and protest at every event this 'church' ever holds again. Post the dates on the net ..... Go VIRAL!

    October 7, 2010 at 12:17 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Chris

    We should all gather around the Westboro Church with signs that read "GOD HATES PASTOR PHELPS", and "WESTBORO FOLLOWERS ARE GOING TO BURN FOR ETERNITY IN HELL."
    Who else on here is with me on doing this?
    Lets gather thousands of people (legally), and see how Mr. Phelps and his brainwashed followers react to this.

    October 7, 2010 at 12:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • CBC

      They would love the attention That's what they feed on anyway.

      October 7, 2010 at 12:42 pm | Report abuse |
  6. James

    All churches are the same. Unless you are a member of the church, putting money in their offering plates, sleeping with the pastor, they look down at you and saying you are going to hell. If that kind of people in churches, I am glad that I stay at home. Hey if they going to heaven so am I.

    October 7, 2010 at 12:34 pm | Report abuse |
  7. IceT

    If this cult's right to protest is protected as free speech, then isn't (non physical) bullying also a form of free speech? I prefer to think of bullying as a hate crime as much as a protest at a funeral is a hate crime. It seems 2 very similar things are being treated very differently, why?

    October 7, 2010 at 12:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • c.m.

      exactly my thoughts.
      What Phelps and his followers are doing is nothing more than extreme bullying, which is exactly what so many schools, celebrities, politicians are spouting towards trying to stop amongst our children. But apparently, if you're an adult and want to be a big old bully, all you have to do is hire an attorney and have them call it "Free Speech", and we're all supposed to cow down and accept it as such.
      Call it what it is already, it's BULLYING !
      If the supreme court (or wherever this case is now) calls it "Free speech" they are undermining all the efforts of everyone else in this country to STOP bullying. How can we expect our children to stop it, if we adults continue to allow it under the often mis-used guise of "free speech".

      October 7, 2010 at 6:54 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Frank

    It is wonderful to see so many comments of support from so many different backgrounds...THIS is what this soldier died to protect.

    The facts are simple:
    1) Phelps and his minions are a cult.
    2) Phelps and his minions are NOT Christian....they DO NOT follow the teachings of Jesus Christ. Period!
    3) Any...and I mean ANY other religious or non-religious organization would NEVER EVER do what this group of sick, mislead, demented, people have done. NEVER. That alone should say it all. I mean…they don’t have common sense…what more needs to be said?!
    4) Just because they say it is free speech does not mean it is free...this came at a cost to an innocent family...why...why...should they suffer or anyone suffer just because a cult feels a need to make a point? Justice Ginsburg nailed it...there are so many other forums to get their point across....why this?

    Enough...they are morally wrong...and should be told so by the court. Sometimes 'free speech' is too costly...and in this case....the price paid by others was too high.

    October 7, 2010 at 12:45 pm | Report abuse |
  9. H

    Okay. Why is it "free speech"? Here's the thing, if the protestors were "protesting" the funeral of a [insert minority/race/gender here] group, then it would be somehow turned into a hate crime, or a threat of a hate crime or something to that effect- so why don't our troops, our bereaved, our every day citizen–why don't they deserve the same sort of protection against these idiots that try to use "free speech" as permission to be cruel, hateful, and intentionally damaging? If we are truly the land that treats each other as equals, then our everyday citizen and OUR SOLDIERS deserve RESPECT. Just like all of our, me included, minority groups that want that same respect.

    October 7, 2010 at 12:48 pm | Report abuse |
  10. dan

    this man is like hitler he thinks that his little family is perfect and everyone else does not matter
    as an american this make me feel ashamed that we have someone like this walking around preaching bull that was thrown around back in the 1800's to early 1900's
    wonder how embarressed god feels that he screwed up and created this fool
    may he get what he deserves when his time comes satan has a chair right next to his for mr phelps

    dont come to texas and pull this act at a funeral
    someone might stick a boot in your rear or worse

    October 7, 2010 at 12:52 pm | Report abuse |
  11. BrooklynGuy

    Maybe the IRS should take a look at their tax exempt status; especially considering the money their law firm makes as a direct result of their church provoking people to sue them.

    October 7, 2010 at 12:52 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Calm Dog

    According to Wikipedia, the Westboro Baptist Church is located
    "...in a residential neighborhood on the west side of Topeka about three miles west of the Kansas State Capitol at 3701 West 12th Street, Topeka, Kansas."
    Just sayin...

    October 7, 2010 at 12:57 pm | Report abuse |
  13. DirtyBob

    These guys were at one of my friend's funerals. Luckily, a vet group all came on their bikes in the dead of winter and basically just revved the crap out of their bikes through the whole service to drown them out as the police had kept everyone not attending the service somewhat of a distance.

    October 7, 2010 at 12:58 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Kurt

    I don't care if they're protesting gays or the war itself. This is not a venue for freedom of speech – it is a personal loss and private time for these people. Maybe when the protestors die, we should prop them up and pose them with farm animals in provocative pictures? Maybe that's our freedom of speech about how they behaved like freakin farm animals?

    October 7, 2010 at 12:58 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Pedro

    Surely there has got to be a way to make some area of the grounds temporarily private property and therefore any unwanted group in attendance would be guilty of tresspass.

    October 7, 2010 at 1:00 pm | Report abuse |
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