Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Father of dead soldier ordered to pay for Westboro Baptist Church's legal expenses

(The following is my column for this week's Newton County News.)

The judicial system has administered another slap in the face to the father of a dead soldier.

In 2006, members of the Westboro Baptist Church, a band of hate mongers masquerading as people of faith, picketed the funeral of Marine Lance Corporal Matthew Snyder, who died in Iraq, carrying signs proclaiming "You're going to hell," "God hates you," and "Thank God for dead soldiers."

Church members have picketed soldiers' funerals for the past few years, saying that these men and women who died for their country, deserved those deaths because the United States is too tolerant of homosexuals.

Cpl. Snyder's father, Albert Snyder, sued the church, claiming invasion of privacy and infliction of emotional distress. A jury awarded Snyder $10.9 million, including $8 million in punitive damages. The award was reduced to $5 million, and then the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the verdict, and to add insult to injury, has now ordered Snyder to pay the church $16,000 in legal fees. The U. S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear Snyder's appeal.

Naturally, church members, buoyed by the decision, are trumpeting those same First Amendment rights cited by the court in its decision to overturn the jury verdict, to rub salt in Snyder's wounds.

From CNN's account:

Margie Phelps, the daughter of (Westboro Baptist Church pastor) Fred Phelps and the attorney representing the church in its appeals, also said the money that the church receives from Snyder will be used to finance demonstrations. But she also said that the order was a consequence of his decision to sue the church over the demonstration.

"Mr. Snyder and his attorneys have engaged the legal system; there are some rules to that legal engagement," said Phelps, a member of Westboro who says she has participated in more than 150 protests of military funerals.

"They wanted to shut down the picketing so now they're going to finance it," she said.

While freedom of speech and freedom of religion are cornerstones of the American system, and rightfully so, is there not some point where compassion and common sense can be added to the mixture. The Westboro Baptist Church employed its First Amendment rights to ruin a solemn observance of the death of a man who made the ultimate sacrifice for his country.

Snyder, using his right to address that grievance in court, received a monetary award from the jury. Citing the First Anemdment, the appellate court overturned that verdict, a decision that sickened those who respect and admire the contributions of men like Matthew Snyder, and heartened those who despise the church, but hold the freedoms of speech and religion sacred.

But to tell Albert Snyder that he has to foot the bill for these people to picket the funerals of other men's sons, that is a gratuitous decision that should not have been made.

The Constitution says people like Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church have the freedom to spit in the face of the people who have died for their right to legally spread hate.

The Constitution says nothing about fathers of dead soldiers having to make it easier for them to do so.

We know the members of the Westboro church have no sense of shame. It is sad to think some of our judges are no better.


Anonymous said...

This westboro CULT, isn't like any Baptists I've known. To a large extent, it would seem that the media has kept these inbred fools going. If they didn't get soooo much TV time they would probably just stay in Topeka. What an abuse of the First Amendment.

Anonymous said...

At least Bill O'Reilly and Fox news is behind the Snyder family and this unjustice that is being committed against their family.

Anonymous said...

Not only should every veteran be upset with this, but every person who has decency and respect for anyone mourning their loved. This makes me sick. Protests and freedom of speech? What about the freedom to bury the dead? I would rather go to jail than give a dime to these people.....

Anonymous said...

The Westboro group is shameful. Their comments are outlandish and unbecoming to our fallen troops. I wouldn't give them a dime or a penny.

However, this is the United States of America. Those soldiers and millions of others in our history have fallen to protect the rights that Westboro uses and, in my opinion, abuses.

On the day their comments are stifled, all our comments are stifled. Keep them back 300 yards if necessary but let them speak.

We should show the world that in the United States we have freedom of speech -- even by idiots. This is the American way. They are only making fools of themselves.