Attorney General Headshot
Attorney General Seal

SOUTH DAKOTA JOINS FIGHT TO PROTECT FAMILIES OF FALLEN SOLDIERS

SOUTH DAKOTA JOINS FIGHT TO PROTECT FAMILIES OF FALLEN SOLDIERS 

PIERRE, S.D.-   Attorney General Marty Jackley announces South Dakota has joined the State of Kansas in an amicus brief to the United States Supreme Court in support of the family of Marine Lance Corporal Matthew Snyder, in the case of Snyder v. Phelps. A District Court decision in favor of the Snyder family was recently reversed by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.

"Especially during this Memorial Day period, it is important for us to honor those who have given everything for our protection and the rights we enjoy in this country.  While we acknowledge the 1st Amendment rights of protesters, we also recognize the overriding right of the families of our deceased service men and women to have a solemn occasion uninterrupted by vile and disrespectful protests.  South Dakota, along with a number of other states, has enacted legitimate restrictions to protect the privacy rights of the families, but the Fourth Circuit Federal Court has now placed these laws in jeopardy."

Matthew Snyder was killed in Iraq in March 2006. His grieving family planned a private funeral service in their hometown in Maryland. Fred Phelps and members of the Westboro Baptist Church traveled from Kansas to picket the family’s private funeral service. They sent out an advance flyer of their intent, describing the funeral as “the burial of an ass.”  At the funeral, this radical group stood at the main entrance of the Church carrying signs proclaiming “Thank God for Dead Soldiers” and other repugnant messages.  Phelps’ harassment continued after the funeral, when he posted a document on the internet containing statements attacking the Snyder family and their son’s honorable service to his country.

Albert Snyder, Matthew’s father, filed a civil lawsuit against Phelps for intentional infliction of emotional distress and invasion of privacy. A jury sided with Snyder, and Phelps was ordered to pay civil damages.  Phelps appealed his case to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, which reversed the District Court on the ground that Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church members were protected by the First Amendment, and ordered Snyder to pay Phelps’ costs.  The United States Supreme Court has agreed to review the Fourth Circuit’s decision.

South Dakota is one of forty-eight states joining in support of Kansas Attorney General Steve Six.