Court orders father of dead Marine to pay demented funeral protesters – we need to help
In March of 2006, Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder of Westminster, Maryland died in a vehicle accident while serving in Iraq. Later that month, his body was returned to his hometown for burial at what was to be a private family service.
Sadly, there was absolutely nothing private about it.
As the family tried to bury their young Marine, protesters from the Kansas based Westboro Baptist Church, led by Reverend Fred Phelps, picketed the funeral carrying signs with printed slogans such as “God Hates You” and “Thank God for Dead Soldiers” as they loudly chanted their protests with the clear intent of disrupting the funeral.
The members of the Westboro Church believe that the combat deaths suffered in Iraq and Afghanistan are God’s retribution for America’s tolerance of gay men and lesbian women. This was not their first protest disrupting the funerals of men and women who have died in battle nor was it their last. Understanding that this is an excellent device for getting attention and pursuing what they believe to be their First Amendment right to free speech, Rev. Phelps has chosen this as the method to make his point.
Showing extraordinary tolerance, Albert Snyder, the father of Lance Cpl. Snyder, sued the group – seeking $5 million in damages for invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress. I say that Mr. Snyder exercised extraordinary tolerance because, had it been me, I seriously doubt that any of the protesters would have survived their disgusting behavior in suitable physical condition to respond to a lawsuit.
A Baltimore jury agreed that Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church mob acted despicably and awarded the father $11 million in damages, an amount that was reduced by the judge to the requested $5 million. However, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed with the lower court, stating that the signs carried by Rev. Phelps and his thugs contained “imaginative and hyperbolic rhetoric” protected by the First Amendment. Such messages are intended to spark debate and cannot be reasonably read as factual assertions about an individual.
While it remains unclear what the 4th Circuit’s three judge panel was smoking the day they reached their decision, the Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case where we can only hope that they will show a higher degree of judicial discretion and understanding of the law.
Now, it gets worse.
Yesterday, the 4th Circuit ordered Mr. Snyder to pay Westboro Baptist Church the sum of $16,500 to cover Westboro’s costs in appealing the lower court verdict – this despite Mr. Snyder’s attorneys’ entreaties to the court that Mr. Snyder was in no position to pay these charges.
The insanity of this situation speaks for itself.
The Founders no more intended first amendment rights to extend to a crowd picketing a funeral where a grieving family is burying their dead than they intended extending these protections to someone screaming fire in a crowded theater. Can you imagine the reaction of the Founding Fathers had someone done this at the burial of one of our Revolutionary War dead? Can any rational human being believe that this was conduct they intended to protect?
The insult added to the injury leaves Mr. Snyder stuck with a large bill he cannot hope to pay as he waits to see if SCOTUS reverses the order.
A fund has been set up to help out Al Snyder with this bill. Please note that none of the money received will go to lawyers as Snyder’s counsel are representing him pro bono. To contribute, go to www.matthewsnyder.org. Or you can send a check payable to “Al Snyder Fund” to the following address:
Barley Snyder LLC
100 East Market Street
York, PA 17401
This would be a good one for showing your support not only for our soldiers, but for the sensible rule of law in this country. The creeps from Westboro Baptist Church need to know that people will not stand by and allow these obscene jerks to continue this sick behavior unaddressed.
I’ve made my contribution – please send whatever you can.
UPDATE: On Tuesday night’s “The Spin Factor”, Bill O’Reilly stepped up and said he would pay the complete bill for Albert Snyder. As I understand it, the legal team would still appreciate donations to cover the continued costs of bringing this matter before the Supreme Court. Keep an eye on the website posted for information. And, while we are at it, it couldn’t hurt to take note of the fact that (a) Bill O’Reilly did a very nice thing and (b) sometimes things are just so obviously wrong, it doesn’t matter where you fall on the political divide.