Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky have joined 40 other U.S. senators in urging the U.S. Supreme Court to protect the privacy of grieving families at military funerals.
The group stated its position in a 15-page friends-of-the-court brief.
As members of Congress, the 42 senators “are entrusted by the American people to support the military service members charged with the defense of our nation and to ensure that those slain in service are lain to rest with dignity, solemnity, and respect,” according to the brief.
“Military service members have fought to protect the freedoms and rights enshrined by the United States Constitution and enjoyed by the American people, including protections of public expression,” the document said. “(The friends of the court) believe that it is their role as Members of Congress to provide for the safety and superiority of the United States military and the well-being of its personnel and their families, consistent with the rights and freedoms they fight to protect.”
According to the brief, the senators filed the document “because they believe that the law should continue to protect, as it long has, the rights of all private persons — including the families of fallen soldiers — to mourn their loved ones at a peaceful and solemn funeral.”
On appeal to the high court is a decision by the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled in a Kansas case that pickets have the right to protest at military funerals.
Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto has joined 47 other state attorneys general in filing a brief in support of the appeal.
The case involves the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan., whose members have conducted protests at military funerals, including some in Nevada, in which they taunt mourners and carry signs with messages such as “God Hates Fags.”
Assemblyman Lynn Stewart, R-Henderson, has tried unsuccessfully in two consecutive Nevada legislative sessions to pass bills to prevent protests near funerals. The bills failed because of concerns by some legislators about the First Amendment right to protest.
“In our nation, as in nearly every culture and religious tradition, proper burials play a crucial role in helping the bereaved mourn the dead,” according to the senators’ friends-of-the-court brief. “The disruption of a funeral interferes with the necessary emotional process of grieving, and thus can inflict severe psychological and even physical distress on the bereaved. In recognition of the vulnerability of mourners, American courts have long recognized a ‘right’ to a decent burial.”