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. sara

    I think a scientist should find Phelps and his tag-alongs and say, " You all can climb down out of the trees now, we dicovered you can walk upright now,and not on all fours" I surely don,t mean to demeaner our real primate friends!!!! Our primates are much higher IQ numbers than Phelps and klan. This cult should stay in the trees,and don,t mingle with human beings!

    October 7, 2010 at 1:49 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Mike

    Why don't we all start showing up at this lunatic's church and start protesting there and if he loses one of his loved ones protest at the funeral. An eye for an eye!

    October 7, 2010 at 1:52 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Churchmyrearend

    Every now and then, someone will post their phone numbers online. They will actually sit and argue with you on the phone LOL! Granted, it's like talking to a wall and they probably hit a record button everytime their phones ring, but, if you don't threaten them or verbally abuse them in any way (do what they claim to do – don't break any laws), you can actually tell them what idiots they are and suck a few minutes out of their lives so they can't do it to someone else.

    October 7, 2010 at 1:58 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Stormy

    This is exactly what the Phelps family thrives on...MEDIA attention. I know this is easier said than done, but if the media didn't report anything about this dysfunctional family and the people who this dysfunctional family harass would ignore them, then they would not get the attention they seem to so desparately want. I said this once before, Phelps and his followers need to take a page out of the Jim Jones story. I will gladly supply the kool-aid!

    October 7, 2010 at 1:59 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Julie

    How do these people have time to go all over the country for these protests? When do they spend any time in church?

    October 7, 2010 at 2:01 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Boney

    Phelps better keep an eye on his "six"

    October 7, 2010 at 2:01 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Lisa

    I'm surprised that no one has burned Fred Phelps church to the ground or shot at him. Personally, I 'd like to see every member of his "church" mowed down by machine gun fire. I wouldn't be surprised to hear Fred Phelps tell the world he is gay and he has been doing this to fight his own demons. I wish God would strike him down, but He must be busy. Where's Dexter?

    October 7, 2010 at 2:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • darkpoet

      he has been shot at... people are just bad shots

      October 7, 2010 at 3:28 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Tam

    The right to freedom of speech should also be based on relevance. This family and the deceased soldier have nothing to do with the issues of this whacko "church." Not relevant - no right to free speech.

    October 7, 2010 at 2:06 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Candi

    I had to laugh when they deleted the comment by "Fred Phelps". Not sure if it was the real one, but CNN better watch out or they will sue them for violating their freedom of speech LOLOLOLOLOLOL! L.O.S.E.R.S.

    October 7, 2010 at 2:06 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Texas Vic

    this "church" should be investigated. they seem to be more of an organized hate group than anything else.

    October 7, 2010 at 2:09 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Kermet

    Free speach is not the right to say what you want where you want. You are only guaranteed the right to have a venue to say what you believe without persecution. You are not allowed to insite others into unlawful acts or to injure through slander another. You are not allowed to yell fire in a crowded theatre, you are not allowed to walk into court and say whatever you feel. You ARE allowed to say what phelps says (except where he names the soldiers, that is slander). He should NOT be allowed to voice his view at their funeral or at the church, there is nothing that restricts his free speach in this case.

    There was another good point, the court is hearing the 'pain and suffering' part and you do not have to be conviced of breaking a law to be sued for pain and suffering. It's always been tricky trying to figure out where one persons freedom ends and anothers begins. Our laws were written with the perspective that they would be enforced by the courts with common sense and the supreme court is there to make sure that those 'common sense' rulings do not go outside the bounds of the law. Law is NOT absolute and not black and white, we are dealing with people not numbers that is why our system is set up the way it is.

    October 7, 2010 at 2:16 pm | Report abuse |
  12. jryan

    I don't see how someone hasn't shot one of these church idiots. If I knew how to build a good bomb I would blow up their church one Sunday morning.

    October 7, 2010 at 2:24 pm | Report abuse |
  13. jryan

    I encourage anyone to blow up their church one Sunday morning

    October 7, 2010 at 2:25 pm | Report abuse |
  14. CRG

    What Phelps and his group are doing is a inciting hatred. This is a hate crime, not free speech. This will ultimately lead to physical violence and people will get hurt. The Government needs to step in and stop this now.

    I am appalled at the number of groups in this country, political and otherwise, bent on creating, inciting and maintaining an atmosphere of hatred. How quickly we forget history, ours and the world's. Have Americans loss the ability to think rationally?

    October 7, 2010 at 2:25 pm | Report abuse |
  15. CC

    I agree with one of the above posts...put Phelps in Afghanistan and let him fight for his freedom of speech, let him see first hand what's its like....

    October 7, 2010 at 2:25 pm | Report abuse |
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