Commentary: Honoring soldiers by opposing Fred Phelps

The Kansas City StarJune 1, 2010 

US NEWS FUNERALPROTESTS 3 BZ

Fred Phelps and members of the Topeka, Kansas based Westboro Baptist Church demonstrate on Pratt Street in downtown Baltimore, Maryland.

JED KIRSCHBAUM / MCT

By the end of Wednesday, nearly all 50 states are expected to be in legal alignment against Fred Phelps.

This is no small feat. Despite the rather bland feeling an amicus brief signed by a bunch of attorney generals may elicit, the importance should be understood. Somehow, a short court document doesn't feel like much of a reply to the decades-long fury of Phelps, his crude signs about gays, the demeaning nature of his disruptive protests at the funerals of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But understand that a nationally supported brief filed to the U.S. Supreme Court is likely as harsh a collective judgment that Phelps will ever receive, at least on earth.

The brief will be part of the arguments heard in October when the court takes up the case of Albert Snyder.

Snyder, of Pennsylvania, has the distinction of being the only individual to sue Phelps for picketing a funeral. Good reasons exist for why he stands alone. The toll on this man, who suffered from diabetes and severe depression before his son's death, are incalculable.

But Snyder launched his stand against Phelps after the 2006 services for his son, Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder, a Marine who died in Iraq.

Westboro Baptist Church staged its usual funeral antics. Then, the church posted on the Internet that Snyder and his ex-wife had "taught Matthew to defy his creator, raised him for the devil and taught him that God was a liar."

Snyder sued for defamation, for invasion of privacy and for intentional infliction of emotional distress, and won $5 million in damages, only to have that judgment overturned on appeal. Defamation charges were dismissed.

Because Phelps calls Topeka home, Kansas Attorney General Steve Six led the effort, writing the brief. Then Six's office got busy, pressuring other states to step up.

With Thursday's deadline looming, a full-court press was applied Wednesday. Thirteen more states, including Missouri, signed on. That brought the total to 43 states, plus the District of Columbia.

Six's plea is that the court, in its ruling, should be careful to not undermine the laws of Kansas and many other states that try to restrict Phelps' impact on the grieving — usually limited to how close the protesters can get to funerals and gravesites. The brief reminds the justices of Phelps' "particularly intrusive and harassing form of speech."

Memorial Day weekend: The timing is a fluke, but it couldn't be more appropriate.

No one has done more to dishonor soldiers than Phelps and his odd little family of followers.

The least the states can do is stand firmly against Phelps' message and yet honor the liberties the soldiers died defending, the constitutional right of a person to be so repugnant.

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