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October 5th, 2010
02:31 PM ET

Anti-gay church, grieving father square off over free speech, privacy


Editor's Note: CNN Supreme Court Producer Bill Mears files this report from Westminster, Maryland. The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on this case Wednesday.

Matthew Snyder's funeral was to be a private affair, with family and friends gathering at a Catholic church to mourn the 20-year-old Marine who died a hero in Iraq, serving his country.

But Matt's father says his grief was compounded by anger and helplessness because of about a dozen unwanted visitors, a fringe group standing at the center of a constitutional showdown.

"I was just shocked that any individual could do this to another human being," Albert Snyder told CNN. "I mean, it was inhuman."

He speaks of members of a small Kansas church who have gained nationwide attention for protesting loudly at funerals of U.S. service members, denouncing homosexuality. Both sides will now receive a Supreme Court hearing over their competing constitutional rights. Oral arguments are Wednesday morning, with a final ruling some months away.

Read the full story

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Church • Courts • Culture wars

soundoff (32 Responses)
  1. Jeremy

    If you accept that the Phelps antics are "free speech" and not invasion of the freedom of religion of others (a funeral is a sacred rite of most religions), then I imagine you are equally sympathetic to unprinicipled lawyers who know their clients are guilty but choose to defend them anyway for the money.

    Lack of principles and ethics is at the heart of both these sad scenarios.

    October 7, 2010 at 4:45 pm |
  2. neth131

    People like the members of the Westboro Baptist Church have turned me against organized religion altogether. This kind of hate has nothing to do with any God I want affiliation with. It is not free speech – it is cruel and inhuman torture of a grieving family during what should be a private period of mourning. Can they do it legally? Maybe or maybe not. Any decent, moral and sane human being would chose not to. If their God would promote such asn act they can keep Him.

    October 7, 2010 at 9:51 am |
  3. Robert Reynolds

    Yes, indeed, they do have freedom of speech rights, just as protesters at the Republican National Convention in NYC had. A fenced off area was set up nine blocks from the Javitts Center (site of the convention), and was labeled the "Free Speech Zone". Precedence has therefore been set. Erect a fenced off area nine blocks from any military funeral, and designate that the Free Speech Zone, and let those from the Enemies of God Church, or whatever they call themselves, assemble there.

    October 7, 2010 at 1:59 am |
  4. mabel floyd

    a small band of godless crazies are causing the pain to get attention - since we now have politicized right wing supreme court there is no telling what they will say.
    i pray for the families that are suffering because of these awful people. people need to come out and silently stand in honor of the fallen solider and the family who feel the grief for the loss of a loved one. this pain is made worse by the jammering of these
    terrible people who pretend they are christian.

    October 6, 2010 at 7:43 pm |
  5. Maghan

    These IGNORANT people are protesting funerals of the very people who are fighting for what they are using, there "freedom of speech" Its completely rediculous. They need to stop saying they are apart of a church, and start admitting that they are a HATE GROUP, because they are nothing of a Christian. Funerals should be a time of grieving, and remorse, not a time for a group of hill billies screaming and yelling foul mouthed, nonsense to a family who just lost a family member.
    Thanks

    October 6, 2010 at 6:56 pm |
    • carlitos

      I super-agree Magham>>

      October 7, 2010 at 2:31 am |
  6. William Butler

    @peace2all – My apologies if I offended. However, some on the left do use the Westboro Baptist Church as a club to caricature Christians or conservatives with, and I only say what I say to provide some balance to those remarks.

    Personally, I just think they are all just crazy, but nothing surprises me anymore so I can't for sure. Whatever the case may be, I hope that something can be done to keep them far away from future funerals.

    October 6, 2010 at 4:39 pm |
    • Meri

      If you had ever looked in Fred Phelps' eyes personally, you'd realize how utterly ridiculous your statement about them being a deep cover for the left was. This is not about politics – this is about a man and his family/cult of personality masquerading as a church. The utter hate in his eyes you see when you are standing across an orange barrier will make you physically sick to your stomach. That kind of bile defies politics and even basic humanity. Go watch them in person and see if you still think that way.

      The issue before us is the right for the families to bury their sons and daughters who died serving this country in peace, free from these sick jack@$$es. Trying to hide their so-called "message" behind the First Amendment is like putting roadkill in an evening gown. No matter how you dress it up, it still stinks.

      October 7, 2010 at 8:45 am |
  7. William Butler

    As someone who is a committed evangelical Christian, I condemn what this group of people have been doing and find it deeply offensive.

    To be quite candid, I have often wondered if this group of people are deep cover operatives for the secular left as they perfectly act like the caricature that the left constantly tries to make conservatives out to be. This hypothesis is partially supported by the fact that Fred Phelps has run for poltical office multiple times as a democrat, and his son (Fred Phelps Jr) was a Gore delegate at the 1988 democrat national convention. Additionally, this group is often defended by the ACLU, which is a fringe left group of secularist lawyers dedicated to attacking traditional values in the country.

    Whatever the truth may be, the Westboro Baptist Church in no way represents any version of the Christianity that is practiced by most Christians, nor the teachings of Christ or the apostles.

    October 6, 2010 at 3:20 pm |
    • peace2all

      @William Butler

      Yes...agreed that 'these "Westboro Baptist Church Klan" do not represent nor speak for the majority of christians.

      Instead of just leaving it at that..... You just had to ruin your credibility by going on the attack with your unfounded 'conspiracy' theories, while making veiled presuppositions through your language and choice of words: 'fringe left'..
      'secular left'....

      In essence William, it seems to me that you are doing the very same things that you rail against others for doing them to you and other christians.

      Something to think about maybe... Just a thought.

      Peace...

      October 6, 2010 at 4:23 pm |
    • Robert Reynolds

      Hey William, while I agree with 99% of what you said (maybe 99.5%), I must disagree with your labeling the ACLU as a group "...dedicated to attacking traditional values in the country." Recent ACLU cases include Sossamon v. Texas on Aug. 10, for an inmate who was was denied access to a prison chapel for religious purposes; they successfully settled a lawsuit on behalf of a Christian ministry in Maryland in 2009 ( The Meeting Ground v. Town of Elkton ); and even filed a suit in Florida federal district court on behalf of two families from the Dove World Outreach Center.
      I don't mean to attack, I simply wanted to point out that the ACLU does work for all sides. And as for your closing, I certainly agree completely! Them building a church doesn't make them Christians any more than me building a garage makes me a car.

      October 7, 2010 at 2:19 am |
  8. A Solid Well-Placed Punch in the Mouth

    Should take care of it. Who would convict you? Not I.

    October 6, 2010 at 2:04 pm |
  9. Jackie Marentette

    Holy F. How much hillbilly ignorance hiding behind a book they can't even comprehend are we going to take? And the sad part is the doubt it instills that religion is evil. Wrong. Stupidity and Hate are evil. The bible is for all of us – but it does require literacy and wisdom. Beware if your standing in orange fencing – cause even though you have a few by your side – there's much more beyond the barrier. Bright colours keep you safe from hunters...if they are targeting animals.

    October 6, 2010 at 9:23 am |
  10. Tschrny Wolf

    It SEEMS LIKE THE ULTRA RIGHTIST PARTY IS NOW INCREASING THEIR VOTES BY ORGANIZING FAKE FRONT PARTIES( LIKE THE TEA PARTY) THE PROOF IS THE PLACE THE TEA PARTY HELD ITS PAST FUNDAIRSER WAS AT THE NATIONAL REPUBLICAN HEADQUARTERS. NOW, WHY WOULD THE REP. PARTY LET OPPONENTS DO THAT IN THEIR OWN CENTER? SO IT IS FALSE THAT THE TEA PARTY WILL REPRESENT THE ANGER OR INTERESTS OF OUTRAGED AMERICANS, THE LOW RANK MEMBERS WILL BE TOTALLY DISSAPOINTED IF THE GOP WINS AND CONTINUES ENSLAVING THE MIDDLE AND WORKING AMERICANS WHO BELIEVE LIES..

    LATINOS DEBEN PONERSE EN PIE. USTEDES TIENEN LA FUERZA ELECTORAL PARA VOTAR POR PRESIDENTE OBAMA (i WROTE: LATINO;S YOU MUST STAND UP, YOU HAVE THE ELECTORAL FORCE TO VOTE FOR PRESIDENT OBAMA )

    October 5, 2010 at 8:55 pm |
  11. Tschrny Wolf

    I found out if the tea party was another party or just a front of the GOP, SEE, legally if the tea party is seen as a separte party of the GOP, IT CAN validate its votes or give them tp the gop, but it if found to be a front, I doubt their votes would be legally allowed. The indepent voters that extremist claim will vote for the GOP, ARE NOT A GREAT MAJORITY, just a few more points; however added to the tea party's, their joint amout would rise to 20 points, or a bit less, but if democrats who are inactive would take away the majority the democrats had before. So it is time to activtte democratic groups, like the latino sector, I heard that most of them llike Prez Obama, but now feel despondent to go vote Tjat ,may get prejudicedfolkks like rush limbaugh as director of our economy.....are you ready for a nazi-like leader and being jailed just for looking latino? What other minority groups be at risk? jews, African Americans, asian-americans and even italian-Americans? Time to get up and support President Obama!!! ra ra ra ra ra, cheer up and let us help our beautiful nation :)))))))))))))))))))

    October 5, 2010 at 8:43 pm |
  12. Pamela

    What a SHAME that this family had to endure such extreme hatred from supposedly "Christian" people. As a person who once belonged to a "Born Again Christian Church" I can say from experience that most of them are, to put it mildly, "way out there." Where was their compassion for this soldier's family??? Oh yes, they have the "first amendment right" to publicly display their opinions, but PALEEEZE! This very soldier fought for THEIR right to do that!!! Ugh! Makes me sick. Let's pray for them to be more compassionate.

    October 5, 2010 at 8:13 pm |
  13. peace2all

    I am curious...... When one of their own (westboro church members) dies, will anyone go and picket them. Hmmmmm.

    Peace...

    October 5, 2010 at 5:17 pm |
    • Frank

      I will...with my prayers. They will need the Lord's mercy on THAT day.

      October 5, 2010 at 5:28 pm |
  14. Flora

    Watching the video, is there a single member of this Westboro "church" who is not a grimy, meth-addled, hilljack?

    October 5, 2010 at 5:09 pm |
    • Frank

      I don't know about meth but that Shirley Roper-Phelps is one scary woman! I'm quite sure she is a psychopath! Just watch any interview of hers and look into her eyes. Frightening!

      October 5, 2010 at 5:35 pm |
  15. Flora

    It's a wonder that these people haven't been flipped off the road by a bolt of lightning. I find it ironic that people like this honestly believe that condemning, harassing, and bullying their "enemies" – the very things the Lord tells us not to do – is doing the right thing. I wish they'd find something else to do and disappear – these hateful idiots are one of the main things muddying the word of God.

    October 5, 2010 at 5:04 pm |
  16. Frank

    If people think Westboro is a good example of Christianity in America, they're not too smart. That 'church' is just the cult of Fred Phelps, who physically abused the hell out of his kids. They're a tiny cult and just good at generating publicity for themselves.

    October 5, 2010 at 4:52 pm |
    • Frank

      I suspect they will probably fade away after Phelps kicks the bucket.

      October 5, 2010 at 4:53 pm |
    • Melissa

      I agree Frank!

      October 6, 2010 at 12:14 am |
  17. Jerry A.

    This is what the American Taliban look like: intolerant, hyper-religious, and filled with hate. Also see the CNN articles on surveys of who makes up the Tea Party, another group filled with right wing religious so-called conservatives.

    October 5, 2010 at 4:35 pm |
  18. Steve Rachi

    To be totally frank i believe these Nutjobs should be given either a 9mm to the back of the head or a letter of deportation to Somolia where they can spread there "word of god" to the lovely "locals."

    October 5, 2010 at 3:58 pm |
  19. Leann

    When extreme religious people use such a tragic personal situation to promote their own religious beliefs, it does not help their case. Instead, it alienates them even more and gives the "normal" population another reason to distrust religious groups.

    October 5, 2010 at 3:55 pm |
    • Bob

      I love the Westboro Baptist Church. It drives more and more people from religion. It makes people say "Wait, what the hell do I believe and why do I think this is right."

      Excellent work Westboro!

      October 5, 2010 at 4:21 pm |
    • peace2all

      @Bob

      Agreed.... And we can't judge 'all' people of faith by the actions of these extreme religious wing-nuts.

      Peace...

      October 5, 2010 at 5:23 pm |
  20. NoGod

    What??? Religious people causing problems? What a surprise. But guess what, it's freedom of speech, so like it or not they have the right to do it.

    October 5, 2010 at 3:54 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.