The most dreaded task of a parent is burying his child.
That Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder died at age 20 defending his country in Iraq on March 3, 2006, in no way made it easier for his father Al Snyder and two younger sisters when the casket arrived in their hometown of Finksburg, Maryland.
"He was a hero and he was the love of my life, Albert Snyder later wrote.
The dreadful and painful ordeal at the military procession for burial of Matthew Snyder suddenly erupted into a nightmarish horror show even ghoulish novelist Stephen King could not imagine.
For outside the private service a group of demented protesters were yelling and waving placards "Thank God for Dead Soldiers" and "Semper Fi Fags." They were members of the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas, led by its leader Fred Phelps.
Al Snyder didn't know it at the time but the group was a publicity-seeking band of misguided zealots protesting military services throughout the country with a cockeyed mission: The death of American soldiers is God's punishment for America's tolerance of homosexuality.
I would like to think if that happened to me, I would shoot the bastards. Al Snyder sued. The purpose, in his words, was:
"Using innocent children to deliver their twisted message of hatred and fear, the defendants in this suit have sought to attack the memory of our departed heroes, to strip their loved ones of their dignity, and to use abuse and intimidation as a tool for preventing surviving family members from reaching closure over their loss."
A jury awarded the Snyder family a $10.9 million judgment, later reduced to $5 million by the court.
The case was overturned by the U.S. Court of Appeal for the Fourth Circuit and because of federal litigation rules had to assess Snyder the protesters court costs which it set at $16,510.80. The U.S. Supreme Court last month agreed to hear the case.
Snyder yesterday credited Michael Smerconish, a lawyer, Philadelphia radio talk show host and columnist for the city's major newspapers, instrumental in publicizing his cause for raising public attention and spearheading a drive to help pay his legal costs.
The movement has gained traction beyond Smerconish's reach with Fox celebrity Bill O'Reilly listing Snyder's Web site for donations and joined yesterday by MSNBC's Chris Matthews who also promised support.
The fact that two bitter opponents from the right and left of our political spectrum in the media can join hands says something in my book. The Snyder vs.religious crackpots is not a left vs. right issue but one fighting for common decency.
Can any sane person not feel sorry for the father of a son killed serving his country forced to put up with this crap:
"God Hates the USA," "Fag Troops," "You're Going to Hell," and "God Hates You."
Snyder said he will not receive a penny from the donations. Any proceeds beyond legal costs will be donated to military veterans.
The 1st Amendment allowing free speech and assembly does not include the right to yell fire in a dark, crowded theater. The high court will be asked to extend that prohibition to military funerals. Snyder was interviewed on the Chris Matthews show yesterday. I sobbed tears for the poor father and his gut-wrenching tragedy he has suffered far too long. And, for what? Al Snyder described his fallen son as a "happy-go-lucky kid" who told his dad not to worry when he was ordered with his unit to go into harm's way in Iraq. "It's my job, dad," his father said Matthew told him. As far as I am concerned, the Fred Phelps of this world can rot in purgatory prison headed by a gay warden.
Readers comments are welcome as long as they remain civil. We reserve the right to delete any comments that are vulgar, libelous and totally irrelevant to this posting. -- Jer