The First Amendment is a delicate subject — surprising given its nature, which is one that protects the opinions and speech of all. Such was the argument of a federal appeals court that dismissed a suit against a group of extremist Christians who picketed the funeral of Lance Cpl. Matthew A. Snyder in 2006.
The protesters (Baptists from Kansas) were holding signs that, “maintain that God hates homosexuality and that the death of soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan is God’s way of punishing the United States for its tolerance of it.”
I’m not going to enter the semantic realm of Christians arguing that God punishes evil; that seems an open invitation to interpretation and an unwanted diversion of attention. Instead, what I’d like to point out is the incredible irony that arises out of the situation considering the death was that of a serviceman.
Although I could never do it myself, the burden our military people put on themselves in the line of duty is something I admire in and of itself. Regardless of the conflict, the self-sacrifice–putting yourself in the line of danger for my safety–is something I will never understand, never experience. But I am damn grateful for it.
As a Marine, Lance Cpl. Snyder undoubtedly believed that he was helping to protect our citizens and therefore our Constitution, in some way or another. As such, he actively helped protect the same governing laws that allowed, rightfully, a handful of religious zealots to make light of his death and his sacrifice.
Do I believe the picketers were wrong to protest Lance Cpl. Snyder’s funeral? Yes, but only on moral grounds. Having such disrespect for another human’s life is to be despised, and the grief put upon his family is more than they should have to endure. But as I sit here, with a picture of my grandfather in full Naval uniform staring directly at me, I have to remember that my morals are not solid basis for the policy of this nation’s laws. During WWII, he fought to protect my right to protect myself, to protect my home and my right to speak my mind. There is no doubt that Lance Cpl. Snyder fought to protect those things as well.
That is why when the Supreme Court hears this trial, I hope they will find in favor of the protesters. Not for their sake, and not for their expressed views; those I can live without. Instead, I hope they find in favor of the First Amendment. For all of us. That way, Lance Cpl. Snyder’s service will not have been in vain.