Albert Snyder of York, Pa., the father of a Westminster Marine who was killed in Iraq, today won his case in a Baltimore federal court against members of Topeka, Kan.-based Westboro Baptist Church who protested at his son’s funeral last year.
The jury of five women and four men awarded Snyder $2.9 million in compensatory damages. The amount of punitive damages to be awarded has not yet been decided. The jury deliberated for about two hours yesterday and much of today.
Snyder was the first in the nation to attempt to hold members of Westboro Baptist Church legally liable for their shock protests at military funerals after the church protested the military’s inclusion of gays at the funeral of Lance Cpl. Matthew A. Snyder, a 2003 Westminster High School graduate who died March 3, 2006, in a vehicle accident in Anbar province.
I’ve long held that protests interfering with the private assembly of others are not free speech. While the folks at the Westboro Baptist Church certainly have a right to protest, that right does not extend to interfering with other citizens’ right to assemble. If they stood out of sight of the funeral, and weren’t disruptive to the proceedings, I’d say that they weren’t in the wrong. As long as both groups of citizens – both funeral attendees and protesters – can exercise their rights all is well.
But that didn’t happen in this situation, so the protesters were held liable for damages. And “loss of the ability to mourn a dead son at his funeral” sounds like it’s worth about $2.9 million to me.