1 of 998 DOCUMENTS
August 30, 2010 Monday
ignites a test of free speech;
High court to weigh claim of harassment
NEWS; Pg. 1A
YORK, Pa. -- Albert Snyder tears up, then turns angry as he recalls burying his Marine son while members of the anti-
gay fundamentalist Westboro Baptist Church picketed nearby.
"I can remember being presented the flag at the graveyard. I can remember saluting the coffin," Snyder says of the un-
usually balmy day in March 2006 when the family memorialized Matthew, a lance corporal killed in Iraq.
Yet, Snyder says, he can't separate such moments from the memory that his only son's
was picketed by funda-
mentalist pastor Fred Phelps and his followers with an inflammatory message that had nothing to do with Matthew.
Disconnecting the death of his 20-year-old son from his reaction to the
"became very difficult."
Snyder, who sued Phelps for his distress, says he feels like he has been stabbed, and the wound will not heal.
The case has grown beyond a single clash between a devastated father and an attention-seeking, fire-and-brimstone
group into a major test of speech rights and of safeguards for the sanctity of military
. The Supreme Court will
hear the case Oct. 6, a crucial First Amendment challenge against the poignant backdrop of war deaths, family suffering
and the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy that allows gays and lesbians to serve -- as long as their sexual orientation
Fourteen sets of outside organizations have entered the case. Those siding with Snyder include a majority of the states
and a bipartisan group of U.S. senators, led by Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. Free speech groups,
such as the American Civil Liberties Union, say they find Phelps' message horrific but that such speech is exactly what
the First Amendment was intended to protect.
Supporters of Snyder, including the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the states, emphasize the importance of protecting
the privacy of grieving families and minimize the value of the Phelps' speech.
Phelps, who preaches that God hates gay people and
what he views as the nation's tolerance of homosexuality
-- particularly the "don't ask, don't tell" policy -- brushes off Snyder's anguish. In a telephone interview from his Topeka
home, Phelps says the father's claim of emotional injuries is exaggerated.
"He ought to be very thankful to us that we .
.. warn people about the perils of sinful conduct that will destroy a nation,"
Phelps knew nothing about Matthew Snyder, who was not gay, beyond that his