- The Washington Times - Friday, November 2, 2007

Military funerals with their somber and strict order of ceremony set the stage for the appropriate reflective and respectful mood befitting the honor that should be bestowed on those who have risked or sacrificed their lives to defend this country.

It doesn”t matter whether you agree with this war or any other, past or present. Americans of every stripe should not dishonor our troops, especially the fallen among them. A proper and peaceful burial is the least we can do.

Last month, on a gray afternoon, it was seconds after the bugle sounded the last note of taps and Old Glory was meticulously snapped and folded into a tight triangle, that I could no longer deny the death of my father, a Korean War paratrooper. In that sobering moment at Quantico National Cemetery, what I longed for most was the privacy to say a fond farewell. (Yes, after I wrote about his harrowing Lazarus miracle and after my sisters and I regained a false sense of hope that he just might recover, our dad, Earl Anthony Randall, 77, died not 24 hours after he was transferred to an Arlington rehabilitation center.)

As hard as it is to bury a parent, I imagine it”s even harder for a parent to bury a child. And, definitely the last thing any grieving mother or father should be subjected to is the unconscionable situation of watching their child being made a public spectacle.

However, that is exactly what happened to the family of Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder during his March 2006 funeral after he was killed in an accident in Iraq.

An outrageous and hateful clan of religious zealots — lead by the Rev. Fred W. Phelps Sr. of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan. — picketed the 20-year-old”s funeral in Westminster, Md., with their homophobic signs and unpatriotic language, which, of course, was broadcast by news outlets across the nation.

Shock and awe? How about signs that say, Thank God for dead soldiers. Shame? Absolutely not; apparently there is no shame in the Phelps gang”s devilment. Talk about taking the Lord”s name in vain.

Under some twisted logic, this sect’s members testified that they are following their religious beliefs by spreading the message that the deaths of American soldiers are because of the nation’s tolerance of homosexuality.

Mind you, this same questionable fundamentalist group, most of whose members are relatives of Mr. Phelps, has spewed its inane doctrine at so many funerals of the fallen in Iraq and Afghanistan that nearly two dozen states have enacted laws barring protests at federal cemeteries.

Even more illogical is their appalling way of expressing their intolerance, which is to picket and shout epithets at the funerals of fallen heroes, even dead firefighters.

If it takes more states to enact laws to shut down these people, so be it. Maryland is among several states that have passed laws prohibiting such protests.

This week, Mr. Phelps and his ilk descended to even lower depths with their actions after a federal jury in Baltimore awarded nearly $11 million to Cpl. Snyder”s father, Albert Snyder of York, Pa., who sued the church leader and two of his daughters.

The civil jury rightfully decided that this father”s privacy had been invaded and emotional distress inflicted. A subsequent offensive posting about Cpl. Snyder on the church”s Web site also influenced the jury, which had to find the group”s inappropriate protest intentional and reckless and their conduct extreme and outrageous.

The goofy jury threw a fit at God, Mr. Phelps said. The goofy jury? If anybody needs godly intervention, it”s Mr. Phelps.

Instead of offering condolences or apologies, the defendants laughed. Mr. Phelps is predicting the case is going to be reversed in five minutes and will elevate me to something important, the Associated Press reported.

Do these people have no moral compass? If you call yourself a Christian, you ought to act like one, according to the loving, neighborly and respectful tenants of Christ.

Maintaining his decorum after the verdict, Mr. Snyder said, Now I know it”s going to be harder for them to do it to anyone else. Unfortunately, I doubt that. It is still not clear whether the group has the funds to pay the damages even if the case loses on appeal.

As an ardent advocate of the First Amendment of the Constitution, especially its free speech and free assembly guarantees, I”m reluctant to censor anyone. But someone needs to remind Mr. Phelps that the Bible also cautions about a season for everything under the sun.

Protesting homosexuality, war or whatever during a burial at a family”s most private and painful moment is just mean and hateful.

You must balance the defendant”s expression of religious belief with another citizen”s right to privacy, U.S. District Judge Richard D. Bennett instructed the Baltimore jury.

Amen. In a cemetery, the right to privacy trumps the right to free speech. Not because it”s unlawful, but because it”s downright disrespectful and ungodly.

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