Forty-two senators filed an amicus "friend of the court" brief recently in the Supreme Court case of Snyder v. Phelps, which involves the right of a religious group to stage protests at military funerals.
Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., made the announcement during a Washington, D.C., press conference, accompanied by Al Snyder of York, Pa. His son, Marine Lance Corp. Matthew Snyder, was killed in Iraq.
At Lance Corp. Snyder's funeral, members of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan., staged a protest. The church believes that troops killed in Iraq and Afghanistan is a punishment from God because of liberal attitudes toward homosexuals in America.
Following his son's funeral, Snyder sued the Westboro Baptist Church, founded by Fred Phelps Sr. A federal court decided in favor of Snyder, but the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned that ruling and ordered Snyder to pay Westboro's legal expenses - about $16,000. Snyder refused to pay and took his case to the Supreme Court.
Phil Riley, director of The American Legion's national security and foreign relations division, spoke at the press conference, saying "Anyone who makes it a point to offend, disrupt and, yes, assault the solemn and venerable ceremonies of a military funeral cannot be permitted to continue these acts of clear and intentional invasion of privacy."
Riley was one of eight Legionnaires who attended the press conference. The American Legion has contributed to Snyder's legal fund for the Supreme Court case.
"I never wanted to take away anybody's freedom of speech," Snyder told the audience. "But this wasn't freedom of speech - this was harassment." Riley said there was no such thing as a "do-over" for the solemnity of funerals, "where bereaved family and friends have the sacred right to feel and share their grief in peace and togetherness, nurtured by their faith.
"The First Amendment is not written to trump their rights to privacy and peaceful ceremony of the closure of life," he said.
The amicus brief filed by the senators argues that verbal harassment and obscene signage in the vicinity of military funerals should be excluded from freedom of speech guarantees under the Constitution.