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.

Watch American Morning weekdays 6am to 9am ET. For the latest from American Morning click here.

soundoff (207 Responses)
  1. H

    How about the Golden Rule (which I learned in Sunday school): Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

    October 7, 2010 at 3:05 pm | Report abuse |
  2. AZLib

    I don't know what to think here. I'm big on Free Speach, however I know I can't yell fire in a crowded theater (unless there is a fire of course). I suspect that delibertly creating stress could be classified as assult. I think that this is purly mental abuse from the church to the parents. The father & surly the family is not a public figure (as in Fallwell ...). So being that the case then without a question I can see upholding the law suite as filed based on mental abuse. Oh... I forgot we have the Sr. Justice thinking that corportions are people.. I would if he would allow them to be drafted?... I digress... being the case of thought we might see once again a 5-4 split in favor of the nut case preacher.

    October 7, 2010 at 3:07 pm | Report abuse |
  3. JimboBillyBob Justice

    I tell you what.
    If these freaks come within the city limits of any funeral I'm attending,the police better lock me up, cause I am going to do whatever I can to eliminate the possibility of them protesting the funeral I'm attending.
    That includes creating poison-bombs(ammonia/bleach inside ballons) to throw at them to knock the disgusting smiles off their faces

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

    being a moderate liberal, i find it an insult to say that we do not respect people who fight for this country. i have many family members that have served or is active now. i respect the soldiers that risk or lose their lives for this country. do not make this a party issue. this "pastor" is a sick sad person, who rather spend his life hating then respecting others. he will burn in hell with his family.

    October 7, 2010 at 3:09 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Stephanie

    free speech doesn't equal hate speech!

    October 7, 2010 at 3:12 pm | Report abuse |
  6. maggie

    I think the Supreme Court would be hard pressed to deny these folks their right to freedom of speech in a public place, no matter how disgusting and unpatriotic these Phelps people are. That said, sidewalks are public places and I would suggest that those in their immediate vicinity launch the most lurid disgusting protests, all day and all night in front of these people's homes. Let's see how they enjoy free speech then!

    October 7, 2010 at 3:23 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Will someone kill the phelps family please!?!?!

    I like taking target practice at terrorists, pedophiles, rapists, and the occasional phelps family member.
    Burn in hell.

    October 7, 2010 at 3:24 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Jeff D

    I'm all for free speech but you can't yell "Fire!" in a theater if there's no fire. There are laws against slander and intimidation and abuse. How in the world does this group keep getting away with desecrating funerals?

    October 7, 2010 at 3:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • henry

      Because the news keeps reporting on it.

      October 7, 2010 at 3:45 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Gail Snail

    Mr. Snyder, my condolences for the loss of your son. I am free because your son fought for my freedom.

    I am sorry that Rev Phelps felt he had to disrupt your son's funeral. I am a big believer in Karma. Rev Phelps and his miguided followers will meet up with Karma someday.

    October 7, 2010 at 3:34 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Nusiance

    I do not believe in the war(s) but I believe that the soldiers killed and their families have the right to privacy during the service. The demonstrations should not be allowed period. Free speech or NOT!!!

    October 7, 2010 at 3:37 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Brenda

    I think the soldiers' families should have the right to hire or get volunteers to hold up either black sheets or billboards to block these crazy protesters. Just absolutely block the view and allow the grieving families the dignity and privacy to bury their loved ones.

    October 7, 2010 at 3:40 pm | Report abuse |
  12. redneck

    What the Phelps did was not right if they did that to me I would not have handled myself well I have buried two cousins a brother and my father in the name of this country all died in war if they had did that at one of my families funerals they would not have left walking and I hope nobody decides to follow the Phelps example

    October 7, 2010 at 3:43 pm | Report abuse |
  13. henry

    According to Phelps and his "congregation", protesting at funerals is o.k because it gets God's message across.

    Does this mean that they would have had pickets out at Christ's tomb?

    It's amazing how a group that despises America so much relies on the freedom of speech, freedom to peaceably assemble, freedom of religion – freedoms those American servicemen paid for.

    October 7, 2010 at 3:44 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Doran

    Every culture has some sort of funeral rites and those rites are sacred to that culture. While Phelps and his band of Emotional Bullies may have Freedom of Speech branded across their chests, the fact that they are committing such a taboo is beyond grotesque.

    October 7, 2010 at 3:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • henry

      You can bet that if a member of their group ever dies, picketers will come to THEIR funeral.

      They won't like what the signs say then...

      October 7, 2010 at 3:48 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Flam455

    He succeeded in bringing left and right wing people together. Some people are so proud of how stupid they are..........

    October 7, 2010 at 3:46 pm | Report abuse |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9