Bill O’Reilly Is Wrong in Supporting A Lawsuit Against Military Funeral Protestors

What a Pennsylvania case can tell us about true freedom of speech

A frequent target of “Freindly Fire’s” wrath is frivolous lawsuits — the kind that make healthcare costs skyrocket, put manufacturers out of business, dissolve personal responsibility, and yes, those that eat away at our most basic freedoms.

Worst of all, many of these lawsuits erode the very foundation that makes America unique — freedom of speech.

A case that has garnered national headlines recently is that of Albert Snyder of York, Pennsylvania, the father of a Marine killed in Iraq. Snyder brought suit against the Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church in 2006 after some church members staged a demonstration at the funeral of his son, Matthew. [SIGNUP]

The reason for suing? The demonstrators inflicted emotional distress on the family and invaded their privacy. Additionally, the plaintiffs stated that the church members sought to attack the memory of their departed hero, to strip their loved one of dignity, and to use abuse and intimidation as a tool for preventing surviving family members from reaching closure over their loss.

In 2007, in an act of pure insanity, a federal jury awarded Snyder $11 million in damages. That award was overturned on appeal last year, and the Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case. In the meantime, a Court of Appeals ordered Snyder to pay $16,510 in legal fees to the church’s leader, Fred Phelps.

That caused an outpouring of national support for Snyder, including FOX commentator Bill O’Reilly, who offered to pay the legal fees owed to the Church.

While a nice gesture by Bill, he has, unfortunately, completely missed the point.

By supporting Snyder’s lawsuit, he and many conservatives who love to bandy around words like “freedom” and “liberty” are, ironically, contributing to the loss of both.

Are we in third grade? Should attacking someone’s memory be a crime?
What am I missing?

Make no mistake. Phelps’ preaching during his funeral protests is twisted, crude, and insulting, not to mention being a message of absolutely no sense. Church members carry signs such as “Thank God for dead soldiers” and “God hates fags,” and somehow think American soldiers’ deaths are the result of God’s punishment for “America’s sins,” especially tolerance of gay people.

But no matter how vulgar and revolting these people are, and no matter how much they add salt to families’ wounds by hitting them at their lowest emotional point — since no parent should ever have to bury a child — no court should entertain a lawsuit for hurt feelings.
Doing so is yet another step to a society controlled by politically correct “thought police.”

It also opens the door to the erosion of free speech, and, once ajar, it never closes.

Obviously, there are exceptions to this freedom, as we all learned in civics class. You can’t falsely yell “fire” in a crowded movie theatre or impersonate a police officer. But those restrictions are common-sense, logical and based on public safety. Insulting someone, while nasty and mean, doesn’t come remotely close to meeting that threshold.
Simply put, repugnant beliefs, as exhibited by the Westboro church members, the KKK, or a host of other fringe organizations, aren’t, and shouldn’t be, a crime.

But O’Reilly is way off base on this point, too. He went so far as to say that the protestors committed a crime by disturbing the peace.
Such an irresponsible statement by the average person is bad enough, but when a well-respected member of the media says it, it has negative consequences. Now millions of Americans are spouting O’Reilly’s thoughts on the matter, completely unaware that they are, in fact, incorrect — and dangerously so.

Disturbing the peace? First, if they had committed that crime, they should have been arrested. But they weren’t.

Second — and here’s where Bill should know better — even if they had disturbed the peace, that would have been a criminal case, not the civil one that is at the heart of the issue. It’s night and day.

Minister Phelps’ and his members’ protest was clearly political speech based on their beliefs. Suing them is akin to suing a pro-life protestor for showing a picture of a fetus to someone entering an abortion clinic. That person may not be too pleased, but suing the protestor should never be an option.

What we should be asking is how and why such a frivolous case could have ever seen the light of day. And the jury award? Eleven million dollars because a few morons made you feel worse than you were already feeling? Even in the land of frivolous lawsuits, that one takes the cake. Jackpot juries must be reined in, or such lunacy will only increase.

What’s next? That guy who honks at you and calls you an unprintable name? Sue him! Your boss who belittles you in front of your colleagues? Hire an attorney! And if you’re an elected official or celebrity on the receiving end of a not-too-flattering commentary piece? File suit to shut down the critics!

You want the biggest irony? The freedoms that Lance Corporal Matthew Snyder died protecting are the very ones we are giving away so nonchalantly whenever it seems convenient.

It’s time to wake up, America.

The same radical Muslims our soldiers are fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan are also at work in Europe, shutting down any viewpoints they deem offensive. Sometimes they do this by death threats, but more often they accomplish it by bullying those with dissenting views and manipulating the system, resulting in an abhorrent loss of freedoms. And now look at Europe: it is a dying, cowardly continent that bows at the altar of political correctness to appease the very enemies that seek to destroy it.

Is that where we are headed as a nation? Ban this, restrict that, and eliminate any freedoms that allow for us to be insulted?

If that’s the case, then let’s not waste any more American soldiers’ lives by pretending that they are there fighting for us, our “liberty,” and our way of life.

Bring ‘em all home, censor everything, and replace the Stars and Stripes with the white flag of surrender.

Welcome to the United States of France.

CHRIS FREIND is an independent columnist and investigative reporter who operates his own news bureau, www.FreindlyFireZone.com. Readers of his column, “Freindly Fire,” hail from six continents, thirty countries and all fifty states. His work has been referenced in numerous publications including The Wall Street Journal, National Review Online, foreign newspapers, and in Dick Morris’ recent bestseller “Catastrophe.” Freind also serves as a weekly guest commentator on the Philadelphia-area talk radio show, Political Talk (WCHE 1520), and makes numerous other television and radio appearances. He can be reached at [email protected]