Inland Empire News

Potential military funeral protest in IE sparks debate on Congress bill

Thursday, August 02, 2012

A potential protest at a military funeral in Rancho Cucamonga never materialized on Thursday, and lawmakers are trying to stop such demonstrations from taking place.

U.S. Marine Sgt. Joshua Ashley, who was killed in Afghanistan, was laid to rest Thursday. There was a mile-long funeral procession following the memorial service.

"Josh is still the leader I expected him to be. He put his life in harm's way to protect others. But, he gave his life. Josh would not have had it any other way. Josh saved lives and gave the ultimate sacrifice in return," said friend Scott Scharrer.

But besides honoring the fallen, it was also a time for people to show support for the military.

"Our son is in the Army, and he actually asked me to come to show support for the Army and for him as well," said Danny Otanez of Rancho Cucamonga.

But while there are those who support the military, there are those who show up to protest. Westboro Baptist Church has shown up at many military funerals across the country to protest the nation's tolerance of homosexuality, and that group threatened to show up at Ashley's funeral, too.

"It isn't the time and place, I mean these people are hurting," said Sylvia Gutierrez of Fontana.

The group never showed up Thursday, and they might not be able to at all in the future now that Congress has passed a bill that would ban protests within 300 feet of a military funeral two hours before and two hours after. The bill remains to be signed by the president. Six years ago, Congress passed a bill banning people from protesting in front of the entrances of cemeteries while there is a funeral going on.

Many seemed to support the bill.

"I think that's great. And I would sign anything and stand up for it and say 'Good.' That's what we need to do," said Susan McGrail of Rancho Cucamonga.

But even those who oppose Westboro's actions wonder if the bill infringes on free speech.

"There's a crossing of the boundaries of freedom of speech, and so I believe in that as well. Everyone has a right to say what they think," said Otanez.

Even if the bill is signed by the president, it could face a significant legal challenge. Just last year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 8-1 that picketing at a funeral, no matter how hurtful it might be, is protected by the First Amendment.

(Copyright ©2014 KABC-TV/DT. All Rights Reserved.)

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Tags:
afghanistan war, congress, u.s. troops, u.s. supreme court, protest, inland empire news, rob mcmillan
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