LUBBOCK, TX (KCBD) – The United States Supreme Court ruled anti-gay protests at military funerals are protected under freedom of speech. The 8-1 ruling is a win for Westboro Baptist Church of Kansas, which claims military deaths are god's punishment for the nation's tolerance of homosexuality.
Demonstrators from that church came to Lubbock in 2006 to protest the funeral of Army Specialist Andrew Velez, but another group mobilized to drown them out.
Local post 575 of the American Legion Riders counter protested demonstrators from the Kansas church back in 2006 and while they say they are disappointed with the ruling, they aren't surprised.
"It's just not the time to be disrespecting family or the deceased," said ALR Post 575 President Steve "Shooter" Brooks. In 2006, the night before Velez' funeral, he and a friend mobilized 350 riders to help raise flags and block the protestors from family members.
Velez died in Afghanistan and his brother, Freddie, died in Iraq.
"We just didn't understand the way they are using their rights to freedom of speech, a freedom and other rights are something we vets fought for anyway," said Brooks.
"Didn't my sons earn the right to have a respectable and peaceful burial without anybody protesting?" said Roy Velez, Andrew's father, back in the fall when the case went before the high court.
Chief Justice John Roberts said speech is powerful and can stir people to action, move them to tears of both joy and sorrow as it did here, inflict great pain but the government cannot punish the speaker.
Civil liberties groups support the ruling, and say the decision respectfully acknowledged the family's grief. "They've also correctly help that the response to that grief cannot include abandoning core first amendment principles that protect even the most unpopular speech," Steven Shapiro with the ACLU tells NBC news.
The group from Kansas vows to keep protesting soldier's funerals. Brooks, who is the area ride captain for Patriot Guard Riders says if members of the church come back to Lubbock he will organize riders for families of fallen soldiers.
"They have the right. Just don't think they are all showing a lot of common sense by doing it at a funeral," Brooks said.
Distance restrictions for protests outside funerals are in place in 44 states including Texas.
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