I have only been to one military funeral. Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder was 20 years old when he was killed in Iraq on March 3, 2006. Matthew was from my church, and his mother was one of our religious education volunteers.
His funeral took place right after we had gotten news that our pastor was critically ill in Italy, and we didn’t know if he would recover. Our nerves were very raw and our hearts troubled in the days leading up to Matthew’s funeral.
What made everything worse was the announcement that a radical organization known as Waynesboro Baptist Church was going to protest the funeral. We couldn’t believe that anyone, let alone a “church,” would do such a thing. How could people be so cruel?
The morning of Matthew’s funeral will always be etched in my memory. The profound sadness that comes with the loss of someone so young was overtaken by the anger that welled up in everyone when the protestors arrived.
Gratefully, the police and a veterans group kept them at a distance, away from the funeral cortege. But we knew they were there. It was a group of about twenty to thirty, including small children, and each held posters with unbelievable hate speech written on them. The scene was surreal. It was painful. How could people hate like this, and to do so in the name of Jesus just broke my heart. We all wanted to weep.
Since the Revolutionary War, people like Matthew have been fighting and dying for our freedom. The same freedom that was, in my opinion, terribly misused that day by the members of the so-called Waynesboro Baptist Church. I had never heard of this group before, but Matthew’s funeral was not their first protest, nor was it their last.
In October of this year, the United States Supreme Court will hear the case of Snyder v. Phelps. Matthew’s father sued the leaders of Waynesboro Baptist Church and won in a lower court. It was later overturned, and, although it is beyond my comprehension, Mr. Snyder was ordered to pay the court costs of this hate group, which totaled tens of thousands of dollars.
The case that will go before the Supreme Court this fall focuses on the limits of free speech given to us under the Constitution.
No matter how the Court decides, the actions of this group represent the very worst behavior I have ever witnessed. I pray that God will have mercy on them.
On this Memorial Day, I think we need to be reminded that freedom is never free. It always comes with a price. May Matthew, along with all the others who have given their life in the service of our country, rest in peace. May their families receive the consolation that can only come from God.
God bless our troops
God bless America