Westboro Baptist members should not be protected


Westboro Baptist members protest outside the U.S. Supreme Court building.

On March 10, 2006, Albert Snyder and his family had ample reason to grieve. Their son, U.S. Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew A. Snyder, had been killed in service of his country.

Snyder’s family intended to bury him with the dignity and honor that all of our servicepersons in the armed forces deserve. These soldiers fight for those of us who prefer a leisurely life of watching television, going to school or writing freelance for college newspapers.

Instead, Snyder’s family was met with a legion of people carrying signs with slogans like “America Is Doomed,” “Thank God for Dead Soldiers,” “God Hates Fags” and “Thank God for 9/11.” The perpetrators of this act were the members of the infamous Westboro Baptist Church based in Topeka, Kan.

The so-called church, led by their “pastor,” Fred Phelps, has been classified as a hate group because of its disgusting and shameless attacks on deceased military personnel, the Jewish, Catholics, Muslims, President Barack Obama and, of course, the gay community.

The church’s justification for their demonstrations is that, since the U.S. gives freedom and comfort to the gay community instead of declaring them criminals, God is punishing us by killing our soldiers. These are cruel, black-hearted statements, and the fact that this church’s demonstrations happen in a country supposedly open to everyone is horrifying. The members of Westboro Baptist Church pushed the knife in even deeper by showing up at a funeral.

The Snyder family apparently thought the same thing. In June 2006, they filed a lawsuit against the church and its prime movers, Phelps and his daughters, for defamation, invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Although the first two accusations were dismissed on First Amendment grounds, the third went to trial and earned the Snyders over $10 million in 2007. However, two years later, a federal appeals court sided with Phelps and overturned the ruling. Not only was the family’s award taken away, but the court also ordered them to pay the church’s legal fees.

Nevertheless, the Snyder family has continued to fight and, in March of this year, the U.S. Supreme Court consented to hear the case. Their plight has garnered support from many, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid D-Nev., 42 other senators and the attorney general of Kansas, who all filed briefs in support of Snyder.

Other supporters include Fox News political commentator Bill O’Reilly, who offered to pay the church’s legal fees for the Snyders, and most surprisingly, the Ku Klux Klan, who put out the following statement a month after the court agreed to hear the Snyder case: “The Ku Klux Klan, LLC. has not or EVER will have ANY connection with the ‘Westboro Baptist Church.’ We absolutely repudiate their activities.”

The First Amendment was intended to promote peaceful and free speech while allowing for civilized debate among Americans. Instead, hateful religious bigots are using it as a shield to make groundless attacks against innocent people who don’t deserve these wolves at their doors.

If the Supreme Court sides with Fred Phelps and the WBC, it will have said that it doesn’t care about the people that fought for this country. Worse, it will have given aid and comfort to people that hate America and want to see it destroyed.

One day, in a perfect world, we might see the Phelps family and all who follow them tried, convicted and jailed for their hate speech and senseless fear-mongering.