U.S. Navy SEALs fold the flag from the casket of Special Warfare Operator 2nd Class Adam Smith during Smith's burial service in Bevier, Mo., Oct. 2, 2010. Smith was one of nine Service members killed when the helicopter they were traveling in crashed in Zabul province, Afghanistan, Sept. 21, 2010. U.S. Navy photo

Legion supports funeral protests bill

Today, The American Legion delivered a letter of support to Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, who introduced legislation last month in an effort to guarantee that military funerals in America can be conducted with dignity and respect for our fallen warriors.

The Sanctity of Eternal Rest for Veterans (SERVE) Act would create a 300-foot protective zone around military funerals that would exclude any public protests or demonstrations. Such events would also be required to occur two hours before or after a memorial service. However, for funerals taking place at Arlington National Cemetery or cemeteries controlled by the National Cemetery Administration, the protective zone would be extended to 500 feet.

In the letter, American Legion Legislative Director Tim Tetz wrote that Snowe’s bill (S.815) did not target free speech, “but rather the infliction of emotional harm on private citizens” who seek to honor the memories of those who have died in service to their country.

The letter continued, “We embrace fully a world where groups espousing varied and unpopular political messages have the ability to voice those concerns in proper venues. However, in so doing, it is not necessary to harm the grieving families of our heroes.

“We wanted to thank Sen. Snowe for her leadership on this issue that has created so much emotional distress for those who lost a son, daughter or loved one,” Tetz said. “The American Legion believes the SERVE Act is an appropriate mechanism for protecting our military families from outlandish protests, while still preserving our freedom of speech.”

Snowe’s bill, which currently has 19 cosponsors, would effectively curtail protests such as those conducted by the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan. Westboro believes that troops killed in Iraq and Afghanistan is God’s way of punishing America for its tolerant attitudes toward homosexuals.

Last March, the Supreme Court ruled in an 8-1 decision that the church’s right to stage such protests was guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.The American Legion filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the Supreme Court case and raised more than $26,000 for the plaintiff, Albert Snyder, to help defray his legal costs. Snyder’s son, Matthew, served in the U.S. Marine Corps and was killed in Iraq in 2006. The Westboro group protested at his 2006 funeral in Westminster, Md.