Last week, two Iraq veterans serving in Congress, Reps. John Boccieri (D-Ohio) and Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), introduced a bipartisan resolution calling on the Supreme Court to preserve privacy for military families mourning their loved ones.
The resolution, House Continuing Resolution 261, would express the sense of Congress that the Supreme Court should uphold lower court decisions that military funeral proceedings should be private, peaceful ceremonies where Gold Star families are allowed to mourn with dignity.
The resolution comes as the Supreme Court prepares to hear the case of Gold Star father Albert Snyder, who sued the Kansas church that picketed the funeral of his son, Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew Snider, who was killed in Iraq in 2006.
The church, which we refuse to acknowledge on this blog, has picketed military funerals since 2005, brandishing offensive signs and screaming at mourning Gold Star families, posturing that American troops were dying in combat as a result of America's tolerance for homosexuality.
In an effort to protect grieving families, motorcycle groups like the Patriot Guard Riders and AMVETS Riders have offered escorts and cordons for funeral processions alongside local law enforcement.
After being exposed to the group's hateful message, Snyder decided to take action, suing the Kansas church for defamation, invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Snyder was originally awarded more than $10 million in damages, until the decision was overturned by the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which also ordered Snyder to pay associated court fees for the Kansas church.
With the case making its way to the Supreme Court, AMVETS leaders support Boccieri and Hunter's resolution, calling to preserve dignified military funerals.
"What this radical church has done is abhorrent and cannot simply be viewed in the context of preserving First Amendment rights," said AMVETS National Commander Duane J. Miskulin. "Our grieving Gold Star families deserve only the utmost respect when mourning the loss of their loved ones. AMVETS hopes that the Supreme Court will agree that picketing military funerals violates the personal rights of a grieving family."
The Boccieri/Hunter resolution, which has already garnered support from fellow veterans in Congress, Reps. Chris Carney (D-Pa.) and Tim Walz (D-Minn.), among others.
Both Hunter and Boccieri said the issue was personal in nature to them, given their experiences in the current conflicts. Hunter has served multiple combat tours, leading Marines in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and Boccieri, a life member of AMVETS Post No. 44 in Youngstown, Ohio, flew C-130 missions in Iraq.
"Service members who make the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our nation--as well as their families--deserve our unending respect and appreciation," said Hunter. "Those who attempt to discredit their sacrifice by hurling insults and engaging in other offensive behavior bring great shame to themselves. The right to free speech is one of our nation’s most fundamental and protected rights, but it’s unfortunate when certain individuals or groups think it’s appropriate, for the purpose of creating controversy, to publicly malign our fallen heroes and disrupt such an important moment for their families. It’s my hope is that the Supreme Court will move to uphold existing laws that allow these families to mourn the loss of their loved ones without disturbance."
"The right to free speech ends where the privacy of a family mourning the loss of a service member begins,” said Boccieri. “While our law doesn’t restrict hate groups from spewing their venom, it forces them to do it at a respectful distance from the grieving family. This is personal for me after flying wounded and fallen soldiers out of Baghdad."
The Supreme Court granted certiorari on the Snyder case earlier this year and it has been placed on the docket for the current session, with a decision expected to come by fall.
American Veteran will continue to follow developments closely.
(Image: Dear Colleague letter from Reps. Boccieri and Hunter, calling for support to H.CON.RES 261. Letter courtesy of the Office of Congressman John Boccieri.)