Vets support limiting funeral protests

Friday, Castner and five other members of Chestertown V.F.W. Post 5513 attended the Warren County Supervisors board meeting to show their support for protecting the sanctity of funerals, and the right of citizens to grieve in peace.

Ron Robert, Commander of the V.F.W. post, said he was troubled by the recent Supreme Court decision, which overturned a lower court decision granting a multi-million-dollar award to a man who sued the Westboro church after they held a protest at the funeral of his son, a U.S. Marine killed in Iraq.

"The Supreme Court decision was unfortunate, but you can't argue with them upholding the principle of freedom of speech," he said. "It's good, however, that local towns and counties can pass restrictions like this on funeral protests."

World War II veteran Lewis Wentworth agreed, noting that the Patriot Guard Riders, a motorcyclists' group that routinely shields military funerals from such protests, had locally provided a valued and thoughtful service in protecting the rights of those grieving, while showing support for soldiers who sacrificed their lives for freedom.

At a 2009 funeral held in Chestertown for U.S. Army soldier Jeremiah Monroe, who was killed in Afghanistan, a regional chapter of the Patriot Guard Riders had more than a dozen members forming a ceremonial color guard at the funeral as well as escorting Monroe's hearse.

In telling supervisors Friday of area veterans' support for the law, Robert said the heavy turnout of Patriot Guard Riders and veterans in Chestertown had likely dissuaded the Westboro Baptists protesters from disrupting the solemn ceremonies for Monroe.

"People have the right to free speech, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, but how about the happiness of our grieving families of soldiers who've sacrificed their lives for these freedoms," he said. "These restrictions you're considering are definitely a step in the right direction."

Minutes later, the unanimous vote of the county supervisors to enact the measure limiting funeral protests was met with robust applause.

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