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. In Science We Trust

    Rev. Phelps is the BEST RECRUITER for Atheism in the US! You don't see any "atheist nuts" picketing in front of churches, Christian funerals, or other religious shrines and spewing irrational hate. However, when people believe in religious fantasies, then – as Phelps and his nutty 'church' demonstrate – any nonsense is possible.

    October 7, 2010 at 1:02 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Mad Dog

    Why is Phelps still able to do this? Don't we have any real men left in this country?

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

      You first. No one wants to go to jail for taking the trash out.

      October 7, 2010 at 4:08 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Richard Whittington

    All protesters who interupt funerals need to be locked up.
    If they continue we should shoot the sob's.
    A funeral is supposed to be a time of mourning, have a
    little respect for the famnlies anf the dead.

    October 7, 2010 at 1:07 pm | Report abuse |
  4. kowa

    I'm sure the first amendment does support inflicting pain on others. If so, it should be amended to disallow those outside societal norms to inflict themselves on society!

    October 7, 2010 at 1:12 pm | Report abuse |
  5. kowa

    Someone should feed them some buckshot and a bucket of feces.

    October 7, 2010 at 1:14 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Bryan

    While the protesters acted in poor taste, I believe very strongly that the issue at hand from a criminal perspective should be only centered around where the protest happened. If they were on public land, then they have the right to assemble and protest, no exception. If they were on private land, however, then they had no such right. Free speech protections are not meant to safeguard a persons right to talk about puppies and rainbows; the first amendment is only meaningful and powerful when invoked to protect speech that is controversial and uncomfortable.

    October 7, 2010 at 1:21 pm | Report abuse |
  7. juanita

    What I would like to know is how the they feel if the shoe was on the other foot? It is ok for them to protest a funeral of a military soldier, which for some people the military is just a stepping stone like a job. So if someone protested a funeral for their loved ones would they just stand back and say ok that is their right? I highly doubt that. I think that for no matter who a person is or what they have done their family has a right to bury them in peace.

    October 7, 2010 at 1:22 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Albert

    Pastor Phelps: How dare you !! This young person died for his country, for you and I.
    How dare anyone protest at his funeral. A man of God, I think not.

    October 7, 2010 at 1:30 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Mike

    I really hope the Supreme Court hands Phelps and his bunch their heads on a platter buy ruling in the favor of Mr. Snyder. I also hope they reinstate the judgement that was entered against the Phelps. Personally speaking, I find it suprising that considering how many times Phelps and his bunch have done this, that someone hasn't done more then that incident of the man in his truck driving by them and attempting to pepperspray them. I am really suprised someone grieving hasn't just opened fire on them. Not that I would condone it, but I really don't think I would lose any sleep from it either. To quote Ron White, "You can't fix stupid".

    October 7, 2010 at 1:31 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Cheshire

    Granted, as much as I despise the Phelps clan and their lunatic politics, they unfortunately do have the right to do this. I feel for any military families that have to put up with this portrayal of hate, but sadly, the Phelps do have free speech on their side.
    You can't legislate good behavior. And in any case, if their right to free speech was banned, then who's to say that mine or yours won't be as well? Everything we do or say is potentially offensive to SOMEONE.
    In any case, sympathies to the family, and to ANYONE who has to deal with these nutcases.

    October 7, 2010 at 1:36 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Zig Brown

    Both of my sons came home from the war physically unscathed, thank God. However, if either of them didn't and these ghouls showed up at his funeral, I would be hard pressed not to exercise my free speech with a big stick and exorcise the evil back to the pits of hell they escaped from . I know these fiends have stated they would take citizens to court that physically attack them, but what would I have to loose? They can't take from me that which is already lost and meant so much.

    October 7, 2010 at 1:41 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Candi

    This isn't even a real "church". It's a family with several lawyers who purposely spew their hate in places they know they may be asked/forced to leave or punched in the face so they can turn around and sue because their 1st Amendment rights have been violated. The are using the 1st Amendment as a way to make money. Period. The IRS should take away this "church's" tax-exempt status and force them to pay back taxes plus interest.

    The Phelps family knows they are going to hell but don't care as long as he can line his pockets in this world.

    October 7, 2010 at 1:42 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Mad in Omaha

    these animals don't just show up at military funerals. They showed up at the memorials and funerals of the boy scouts that were killed during a tornado in Nebraska a few years ago holding signs with "god is glad your kids are dead". What kind of sick perverted pigs say something like that.

    October 7, 2010 at 1:46 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Tom

    Please someone shoot this motherphucker phelps dead. Eventually, hes gonna show up at the wrong funeral.

    October 7, 2010 at 1:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • Believer

      Tom I think you are so right. That would sad wouldn't it...NOT

      October 7, 2010 at 1:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mad Dog

      THANK YOU TOM!!!!!!

      October 7, 2010 at 2:44 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Susan

    This is consider "free speech" and is ok but we had the nation, white house, press, people from other countries, etc coming down on the other pastor for wanting to use his right to "free speech" by burning a Quran. Seems to me to be a double standard. It isn't allowed if it is offensive to the muslims, but it is allowed if it is offensive to christians and veterans. No better example of what is wrong in this country.

    October 7, 2010 at 1:46 pm | Report abuse |
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