Albert Snyder had already buried his Marine son amid protesters carrying signs he considered hateful. But with an order to pay thousands of dollars in legal costs to the group of picketers, Snyder said, he and his family have endured extraordinary anguish from the moment a fringe group announced it would picket his son's funeral through a devastating court battle that has so far ended in defeat.
"It was bad enough that they reversed the decision, but then to tell me I had to pay them money so they can do this to more military funerals, that's what hurts the most," Albert Snyder said on "Good Morning America" today.
Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder, 20, died while serving in Iraq in 2006. Members of the Westboro Baptist Church, a small congregation in Topeka, Kan., headed by the controversial Rev. Fred Phelps, protested at his funeral, claiming that the soldiers were evil because they defend a country that tolerates homosexuality.
"So many people have died in this country throughout our history to preserve such a precious right and to have a group of 80 people destroy it and mock it the way they are, it is a crime," Snyder said.
The group had published a letter announcing the protest a few days before the service, which drew a large crowd, Snyder said.
"[The] media came out of the woodwork, we had to have a SWAT team at the church, we had a Winnebago set up as a command central, we had state police, county police, sheriffs, it was just a nightmare," he said.
The protesters picketed about 30 feet from the entrance of the church in Westminster, Md., Snyder said, forcing him and his family to use a side entrance.
"They held signs that said, 'God hates you,' 'You're in hell,' 'Semper Fi Fags,'" Snyder said.
Snyder contended that the protest at his son's private funeral was an invasion of the family's privacy and brought the picketers to court. In 2007, a Baltimore district court awarded Snyder $5 million. But then a federal appeals court threw out the original judgment, saying the protest signs carried by picketers weren't aimed at Snyder specifically and that statements expressed were "protected by the Constitution" because they contained "imaginative and hyperbolic rhetoric" meant to spark debate.
Additionally, the court ordered Snyder to pay the church $16,000 in legal costs.
Upon hearing the decision, Margie J. Phelps, one of Phelps' 13 children and attorney of record for the church, said, "They wanted to shut down the picketing so now they are going to finance it."
Snyder said he found that comment "unbelievable."
Bill O'Reilly, host of Fox News' "The O'Reilly Factor," called the appeals court ruling an "abomination" and said he will pay Snyder's obligation.
"We are going to help out the Snyder family, we want them to take this to the Supreme Court, we want the country to rally around them. … This Phelps crew, these are haters, they have no right to do this and if the system can't deal with these people, then the system can't deal with anything," O'Reilly said on "Good Morning America" today.
"They have no right to disturb the peace and to intentionally inflict distress on Mr. Snyder and his family, they have no right there. They can say they have the right to freedom of speech, assembly, whatever, but they have no right to commit that crime."
Snyder thanked O'Reilly this morning for his support.