A victory for the heart

November 02, 2007

ABaltimore jury struck a blow for human decency this week when it awarded nearly $11 million to the father of a soldier killed in Iraq whose funeral was violated by a cruel and callous protest.

The federal jury determined that a religious group that exploits such private moments of grieving to call attention to its opposition to homosexuality and gays in the military crossed a line of offensiveness unacceptable in civil society.

Further, Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder, who was not gay, seems to have been a random target. His 2006 funeral in Westminster was chosen as an occasion to unfurl vicious placards and voice anti-homosexual rants simply because he was a Marine.

Albert Snyder's victory on behalf of his son, who was killed in the war zone less than a month after he arrived, may prove fleeting as the legal balance between constitutional rights is further tested on appeal.

And there appears little likelihood Mr. Snyder will ever get much money from the Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church, a tiny Christian sect that claims to have few financial resources.

Yet it was heartwarming nonetheless that the jury, skillfully guided by U.S. District Judge Richard D. Bennett, put a higher premium on the mourners' right to privacy than on the protesters' religious freedom to wave placards reading "God hates your tears" and "Fag troops" at the funeral motorcade.

It's too bad the controversy serves the publicity purposes of church founder Fred W. Phelps Sr., who predicted the case "would elevate me to something important."

But abusing the memory of a 20-year-old man who gave his life in service to his country isn't important; it's reprehensible. The jury has done something important.

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