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. Michael

    Mr. Snyder, please accept my heartfelt condolences for your loss. Like the vast majority of posters here, I loathe that idiot Phelps. To the rest of hte posters, please do not judge all Kansans by this one idiot; we're (mostly) good people. I cannot condone violence against any but perchance we, the sane, should protest THEM !! Their address has been posted and is available via Wikipedia. One final thought: Freedom is never free ... Phelps and his followers would know that if they'd ever served this country instead of trying to ruin it.

    October 7, 2010 at 3:46 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Brian L.

    Mr. Snyder, we truly honor your son's sacrifice for this country. Please know that we appreciate his service and that our country is a better one for having him defend it. Thank you.

    October 7, 2010 at 3:49 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Martha

    When it comes to ANY funeral, I think they should take free speech and jam up someone's butt. No one has ANY respect for anyone today. This is a perfect example.

    October 7, 2010 at 3:54 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Amanda

    When this CULT (no REAL church would disrespect someone at their funeral) infringes on the families' right to privacy, their right to free speech stops! You can't call yourself a Christian while dishonoring the dead. You simply can't!
    If you want to protest the war, go picket a politician who supported legislation approving the war. These people are no better than the jerks who spit on Vietnam Veterans.

    October 7, 2010 at 3:55 pm | Report abuse |
  5. henry

    Don't some military funerals have 21-gun salutes?

    Next time they protest at one that does, have the Honor Guard point the rifles in their direction.

    Watch 'em scatter....

    October 7, 2010 at 3:57 pm | Report abuse |
  6. The Pax

    The subhumans at the Westboro Baptist Church are not engaging in free speech. They are engaging in hate speech. Military veterans are somewhat of a protected group, since they receive benefits associated with federal employment, health care and burial. Is it that much of a stretch to include them as a protected group, particularly their burials, when it comes to hate speech?

    October 7, 2010 at 4:05 pm | Report abuse |
  7. sheppard

    To me, just because you HAVE freedom of speech doesn't mean you SHOULD always exercise it. Just because you can, doesn't necessarily mean you SHOULD. Anyone who uses a military funeral to promote their own political agenda is a worthless piece of crap. There are other places and other ways. Do they consider that the families they are distressing are the families who loved ones made the ultimate sacrifice for freedom of speech. If I could see an up side to what they are doing, I might feel differently, but all I see is a bunch of media w h o r e s.

    October 7, 2010 at 4:20 pm | Report abuse |
  8. drake

    if dude was protesting at my one of my family members funeral i'd pop him n whoever in they're mouth. real talk. thats disrespectful i cant believe a person would even think of or do something like that

    October 7, 2010 at 4:24 pm | Report abuse |
  9. MJB

    Ya know I think only God can judge and if you do you are arrogant. Speak about others sins but do it with humility. Doing all this bull demonstrating at funerals is completely immoral. What happened to civility, decency and just plain caring about others anymore and their plight.

    October 7, 2010 at 4:26 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Angela Flavio

    Remember these 2 sayings:
    What goes around comes around and every dog gets their dog (exception a dog or any other animal is better than Phelps.
    These two sayings apply to Phelps. I just hope we r all here to see this day.

    October 7, 2010 at 4:26 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Mike

    So why not have a bunch of those really great riders (I am one myself) descend on Kansas where these people have their church. Not all at once and certainly not with the intent of disturbing the peace, but say around the time of the next Rolling Thunder just make it a point to drive by (or stop and take a look) at this church and let them know they are pretty much alone in their sad and twisted thought pattern. If it happens that it takes several days for all the riders to pass and if they arrive at all kinds of hours it shouldn't matter. The Phelps might enjoy the attention. It is what they crave.

    October 7, 2010 at 4:29 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Jason

    I'm just curious as to who uses the Phelps's law firm. I would gladly pay another law firm double before using any of the Phelps' as a lawyer. That's how they make their money. Stop supporting them and maybe they will go away.

    October 7, 2010 at 4:41 pm | Report abuse |
  13. spiderlegs

    What a great Christian this pastor must be!!!!!!!!!!! Can't you just picture Jesus doing this very thing to the loved ones at a funeral. What a hypocrite. Another retarded bigot masquerading in the cloth as one of "God's people" using a guttershot to achieve his 15 minutes.

    October 7, 2010 at 4:46 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Jody

    The entire Phelps camp is a downright embarrasment to humanity. I pity their fate when karma comes round and smacks them in their idiotic asses.

    October 7, 2010 at 4:48 pm | Report abuse |
  15. libertarian

    At DownTownBrown, since when does only the far right support the 1st amendment? Last time I checked, both sides of the political isle are staunch supporters of free speech.

    October 7, 2010 at 4:55 pm | Report abuse |
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