By Michael Slother - email
LUBBOCK, TX (KCBD) - In 2006 Roy Velez lost his second son Andrew oversees as he served during the war in Afghanistan. At his funeral service in Lubbock, there were protest attempts by Westboro Baptist Church from Topeka, Kansas. That's the same group who made their case to the Supreme Court on Wednesday. They've been going across the country with their campaign against homosexuality, protesting outside the funerals of fallen American soldiers. Roy recalls the scene at Andrew's funeral. "When we drove up we saw them holding the poster boards up, waving them as high as they could," he said.
The protestors claim soldiers are dying as punishment for homosexuality in America. Roy says the signs were graphic. "God hates soldiers was one of them. America is being punished, these soldiers deserved to die." Roy said they weren't able to protest because of the help of a patriotic motorcycle group that helped use their engines to drown their sound.
John Watts teaches constitutional law at Texas Tech. He says free speech laws are there to protect words that people don't want to hear. "There's no question that the first amendment protects this church's right to say what it's saying at these protests. The question is do they have the right to do it at the one moment when the family is burying their loved ones?"
Roy says on the battlefield, the only thing on a soldier's mind is protecting the person next to them and the country they're fighting for. "When you're a soldier you're a soldier, and if these people have decided to fight for our country, that makes them warriors."
According to Watts, when it comes to the high court's decision, it may come down to an issue of timing. "If the courts are going to say this speech wasn't protected, I think it's going to have to be on the basis of when this speech takes place., not that they can't say what they're saying. They can't say it when and where they're saying [it]," Watts said.
Roy asks why the group would protest during a funeral, "Did my sons not earn the right to have a respectable quiet and peaceful burial without anybody protesting?"