Are protests at military funerals a form of free speech?
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WHAS11) – Maureen Wilcox says, "He had the smile that everybody loved, every jobs that he had he was the employee of the month, employee of the quarter. He was just the kid that everybody liked." First Class Sammie Phillips married his high school sweetheart and daughter of Mark and Maureen Wilcox. Then, just ten days later, he was killed when his vehicle overturned while conducting a traffic-control mission on a highway in Iraq.
Hundreds of people from all over the state came to Phillips funeral and then there were ten people from out of state, from the Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas, who came to protest as they have at other military funerals throughout the country. They claim that God is killing American soldiers because of the government's tolerance of homosexuality. Maureen Wilcox says, "The community was outraged that they would come into our town and dishonor one of our soldiers."
However, the Wilcox family is not alone. Another soldier's family is suing the church members and the case has now made its way all the way to the United States Supreme Court with 48 states, including Indiana and Kentucky, backing military families’ right to privacy, while the protestors argue their right to freedom of speech and assembly.
It's a controversial question and even the Wilcox family is divided. Mark Wilcox says, "That's what we're about. That's what the military is about. It's about defending our liberties, the right to free speech. I think it was poor judgment on their part. I think that case can be made in another venue besides outside of a funeral protesting, but I think if you asked Sammie he was defending that right."
Maureen Wilcox says, "We don't protest the funerals of preachers because we don't like what they say. We don't protest other people's funerals because we don't agree with what they do, but it's okay to protest the funeral of a soldier because he does his job? It's not right."