Put yourself in this position: You lose a son in Iraq. He is killed fighting for his country.
You arrange a funeral for him, an event that is emotionally devastating for your family and friends. Outside that funeral, protestors hold signs saying that God killed your son because he fought for a country that “tolerates” homosexuals. Some of them curse at people attending the service.
That's exactly what happened to Albert Snyder and his family in Maryland. In response, Snyder sued the leader of the hate group, Fred Phelps, and a jury awarded him millions.
But the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Virginia overturned the verdict on appeal and even imposed court costs on the Snyder family. The judges rationalized their misguided ruling by writing: “Although reasonable people may disagree about the appropriateness of the Phelps' protest, this conduct simply does not satisfy the heavy burden required for the tort of intentional infliction of emotional distress under Maryland law.”
“Reasonable people may disagree about the appropriateness of the Phelps protest”? Are you kidding me?
Who exactly thinks God wanted Matthew Snyder dead because America does not persecute gay people? Osama bin Laden?
The federal court's ruling is a legal ruse, a bunch of pinheaded mumbo-jumbo that seeks to justify injurious behavior under the guise of free speech. Forty-eight attorneys general have filed an amicus brief in support of the Snyder family. These prosecutors well understand that words can be used as weapons designed solely to harm American citizens.
There is no “reasonable” debate in what the vicious protestors did. They intentionally wanted to inflict emotional distress on the grieving family of a dead soldier. That is against civil law.
One footnote: When Albert Snyder told the court he could not pay the court costs, Phelps told the press he should use his son's death benefits to satisfy the judgment. I hope those judges are sleeping well.
If Phelps and his crew had put forth that God wanted a soldier to die because his family was part of a minority group, the federal court ruling might have been different. Hate crime legislation was attached to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the legal system takes hateful action against minorities very seriously, as it should.
The Supreme Court is now hearing the Snyder-Phelps case, and the outcome is important for all Americans.
With the rise of the Internet, cyber-bullying and threatening behavior have become a plague upon the land. Kids are committing suicide because they are humiliated on the Net, and anyone can be targeted by sick individuals. Inflicting emotional distress on another human being is just a mouse click away.
I well understand the slippery-slope free speech argument being put forth by those who believe the federal judges did the right thing constitutionally. I make my living under the First Amendment, and I don't want the government telling me what I can and can't say. But evil is evil, and attacks are attacks.
The Snyder family has a constitutional right to privacy and the pursuit of happiness. The despicable Phelps mob infringed on those rights.
Examiner Columnist Bill O'Reilly, best of the Fox News show “The O'Reilly Factor,” is nationally syndicated by Creators Syndicate.