I think this is the last time I will think about Fred Phelps for a long while. I’ve only written about him one time, back when the Supreme Court was considering restricting the access he and his followers had to picket funerals. I said yes, the Court said no. My point was the same as my favorite constitutional lawyer Walter Dellinger – picketing funerals is a deliberate attempt to incite violence, not a form of protected speech.
The families of the deceased agreed as well, most of them the loved ones of service members, though the Phelps crew picketed almost randomly; schools, Billy Graham appearances, the funerals of Bob Hope and Fred Rogers.
At funerals, it wasn’t just picketing. Imagine vicious interruptions of solemn services with chants of hatred against your Dad or brother or son or daughter, with your grandmother in tears. It was less an invitation to violence than a dare.
I had that perspective on Phelps and more. Continue reading
National Journal Online
By Steve Snider
October 6, 2010
In the late 1990s, Fred Phelps’ Westboro Baptist Church posted a news release to its site announcing plans to picket the funeral of my father, Dick Snider. My Dad was a Topeka newspaper columnist for many years, writing 750-word takes three days a week on politics and local characters past and present, taking not a few pokes at the pompous and self-dealing. Phelps and his picketers were a Topeka staple for years before going national to spread their targets of hate and ending up as plaintiffs in Snyder v. Phelps. The Supreme Court will hear an appeal today from the father of Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder to reinstate a $5 million judgment won against the Phelps group after they picketed Matthew’s funeral. Snyder was killed in Iraq.
My father said Phelps started targeting him for columns that chided Topeka authorities for allowing the picketers to roam the city in placard-waving packs to harass “accused” homosexuals. A newspaper profile of Dick Snider when he turned 80 put it this way: “As a youngster in Oakwood, Okla., the local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan burned a cross at the Snider family home, forcing one of the few Roman Catholic families in the small town to move elsewhere. Little wonder why Snider maintains little tolerance for fools and bigots.”
In that same profile, I was quoted in the family manner, welcoming the Phelps picket to my Dad’s eventual funeral, saying that at least there would be a crowd at Mass. And there was. As we drove down Southwest Jackson in the funeral limousine in November 2004, there, on the grounds of the state capitol across from the church where my parents were married and my father would be eulogized by my son, stood a couple dozen people — most with my Dad’s photo stapled on fence posts and thrust into the air along with signs like “Fag Media Will Burn” and “Dick Snider Has Gone to Hell.”