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. george mosko

    this church has got to be a false doctrine–this so called church should be of demonic workship because thats who they are more like--the devil himself.........................

    October 7, 2010 at 2:30 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Charlie Murphy

    Why doesn't somebody start sniping members of the Phelps family? I am agnostic but I believe everyone has the right to mourn and grieve in peace.

    October 7, 2010 at 2:33 pm | Report abuse |
  3. paul

    let tehis father bury his son in peace. haven't they both paid the price?

    October 7, 2010 at 2:35 pm | Report abuse |
  4. zounds

    It's never the leader of the group that astounds me vs. the followers. Pretty amazing contradiction-
    a church leader practicing such an abhorrent disrespect. It's like an owner of a health club selling
    junk food in between workouts, only more vile and sickening.

    October 7, 2010 at 2:37 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Fed Up

    Frankly stated, I would enjoy to watch all of these church members die. The pain they cause already-grieving families is so substantial that something needs to be done. If these freaks showed up at one of my close friend or families funeral I wouldn't restrain myself, and any bodily damage or pain inflicted on these creeps is well-deserved and should be rewarded not punished.

    October 7, 2010 at 2:37 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Opinions

    He needs to get a personal attorney and sue them for pain and suffering. That will do it. It is legit that they caused him this pain. Their insurance company (if they have one) will have to pay and then they will sock it to the church in the form of premium or dropping them and then no other insurance company will touch them with their behavior.

    October 7, 2010 at 2:39 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Art

    The Pastor should exercise his freedom in the face of every returning war veteran that is not wounded or dead. He should get real close to their face so it will be easy for him to be served the fist sandwich he will surely get.

    October 7, 2010 at 2:47 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Ercoupe1

    This all boils down to justice... It may be Supreme Court justice or maybe old fashion frontier justice, either way the Westboro Baptist Church will get their just rewards. If I lost my son and what happened to Albert Snyder happened to me or one of my family I don't doubt for one second that I would spend the rest of my life in jail.

    October 7, 2010 at 2:51 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Bob

    If this Westboro "Church" is allowed to continue their hate speech by allowing to voice their anti-military views at military funerals, will we, the people, be allowed to do the same at a politicians or Supreme Court Justices funerals?

    October 7, 2010 at 2:52 pm | Report abuse |
  10. momomiester

    This guy Phelps seems pretty pizzed off!.. I mean he broke all those records in swimming. All those gold metals and he is doing that?

    October 7, 2010 at 2:53 pm | Report abuse |
  11. momomiester

    This guy Phelps seems pretty fizzed off!.. I mean he broke all those records in swimming. All those gold metals and he is doing that?

    October 7, 2010 at 2:54 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Sitara

    As far as I am concerned the pastor and his protestors are sick people and do not represent any kind of Christianilty that I am familiar with. Where is the forgive and forget. Religious people tend to forget where they came from.

    October 7, 2010 at 2:56 pm | Report abuse |
  13. ollie

    If we are going to talk law, then how is what they are doing different from hate filled cyber bullying? Is that free speech, to harass and bully until the victim is destroyed? Isn't that what the Phelps cult is doing?

    Tell me, how is it different? Aren't both of these horrendously cruel forms of attack being spouted as Free Speech? How can words intended to inflict distress and harm be protected? It isn't only sticks and stones that hurt, and if the Phelps cult was flinging them, there would be a case for assault.

    This kind of action is what we've come to expect from extreme radicals, the kind that fly planes into buildings and call it the will of God. What God wills that? No God I have ever studied. MAN does that.

    October 7, 2010 at 2:57 pm | Report abuse |
  14. momomiester

    You could make a law that during a funeral if a protest group spewing hate is withing 1000 feet that is considered a physical threat which would mean self defense. That way we shoot these people and they still have their freedom of speech!..A win win!

    October 7, 2010 at 2:57 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Anyone

    What is funny (sad) about this is that if they did this in any other country they would be in jail. Only in the US can they do this. I think this "church" should be held accountable for any distrss this and the other familys have had to expirence. Then they should all be sent over to defend the country that they are openingly saying they hate, or they can leave! This is not about freedom of speech it is about egos and getting away with a poor attempt at bullying our service men and women. They should try doing this to our bases and see what happens. It is sorry that then can only pick on grieving families of dead service men.

    October 7, 2010 at 3:00 pm | Report abuse |
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