Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder’s father is still wondering how anybody could disrupt something as sacred as a funeral, and now hopes the Supreme Court shares his outrage.
Albert Snyder seeks a court ruling that his son’s funeral was a private event after members of the Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church protested at his son’s funeral.
The case was the subject of oral arguments Oct. 4 at the Supreme Court where Snyder is seeking to have the high court restore an overturned damage award against the protesters for inflicting emotional distress on Snyder and his family. .
The group of protesters showed up at the funeral for the fallen son of the Westminster, Md. family. Snyder was a 20 year-old Marine in Iraq when he was killed in a Humvee in 2006.
Protesters from the Kansas church traveled to Maryland and staged a demonstration at the funeral, carrying signs saying, “Thank God for Dead Soldiers,” and “God Hates Fags”
“We are talking about a funeral,” Snyder’s attorney, Sean E. Summers, said during the hearing. “If context is ever going to matter, it has to matter in the context of a funeral. Mr. Snyder simply wanted to bury his son in a private, dignified manner. When the Respondents’ behavior made that impossible, Mr. Snyder was entitled to turn to the tort law of the State of Maryland.”
Margie Phelps, attorney and daughter of church pastor Fred Phelps, represented the church at the hearing. She says that this country has very clear freedom of speech laws which don’t change just because someone is annoyed or even outraged.
But Phelps was asked by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, “Why should the First Amendment tolerate exploiting this bereaved family when you have so many other forums for getting across your message?”
In response, Phelps said “When I hear the language ‘exploiting the bereavement,’ I look for what is the principle of law that comes from this court? And the principle of law, as I understand it, is without regard to the viewpoint there are some limits on what public places you can go to, to deliver words as part of a public debate,” Phelps said.
If you stay within those bounds …, this notion of exploiting, it has no definition in a principle of law that would guide people as to when they could or could not.”
Snyder was originally given an $11 million settlement in the case before a higher court overturned that ruling. He’s now taken the fight to the Supreme Court in a case that may affect First Amendment law for years to come.
“The First Amendment is something that’s so critical that it may, in this case, just trump the behavior that most people feel is pretty outrageous,” Carl Tobias, a professor at the University of Richmond School of Law, told The Baltimore Sun.
But Snyder is less concerned with the point of law, instead saying that he’ll never get a proper burial for his son because the Westborough members ruined it, and need to be held accountable.
“This is a funeral we’re talking about for God’s sake,” Snyder told the Associated Press. “This is a funeral. I don’t understand what kind of society we want if we can’t even bury our dead in peace.”