Protecting honor of our fallen heroes

By U.S. Sen. Olympia J. Snowe | Apr 17, 2011

Washington, D.C. — At this very moment, thousands of our courageous men and women in uniform are serving in harm’s way in every corner of the globe to protect our freedom and liberty. The selfless commitment of our military, and the dedication of their families and loved ones, has kept our homeland safe from tumult and terrorism unfolding around the world.

We owe nothing less than our deepest thanks for their service, and extend our heartfelt condolences to those who have made the ultimate sacrifice in our nation’s defense. To these fallen heroes, we all owe an immeasurable debt of gratitude that we can never repay, and must never forget.

Protests outside the funerals and burials of our fallen soldiers are repugnant and inappropriate – and they undermine the respect military families and loved ones undeniably deserve.

Indeed, the families faced with a single, heartbreaking opportunity to bury a fallen hero should be permitted to conduct a funeral with the dignity they rightfully earned.  That opportunity must not be tarnished by hatred or intolerance on a day when decency and honor should be paramount.

These despicable protests reached a boiling point when the father of a fallen soldier challenged demonstrators who disrupted his son’s funeral service. While the case was pending before the United States Supreme Court, a Searsport District High School senior resolved to bring this issue to the nation’s attention.

Embracing the deep sense of appreciation Mainers feel about the sacrifices made by military men and women every day, Zach Parker turned his classroom project into a strong statement for citizen action against the proximity of these protests to military funerals. His courage and tenacity to educate the nation about this grave injustice to the families and loved ones of fallen heroes served as great inspiration to me and many others.

When the Supreme Court ruled earlier this year that the First Amendment shielded the disruptive protesters from paying damages to the family it offended at the funeral, it became clear legislative action was necessary to preserve the sanctity of such ceremonies without interference.

Grieving survivors should not have to tolerate despicable behavior as they commemorate the valor of their lost loved ones.

With respect for both the sanctity of military funerals and the intent of the First Amendment to our Constitution, I introduced the Sanctity of Eternal Rest for Veterans, or “SERVE” Act (S.815).

This legislation, supported by a great and growing number of my Senate colleagues on both sides of the aisle, defines the time and place where funeral disruptions are not allowed. The SERVE ACT also provides clear remedies and increased penalties when conduct at military funeral services is not protected by the First Amendment.

So far, the response from military and veterans support organizations has been tremendous. Groups offering their support thus far include American Veterans, Gold Star Wives of America, Military Officers Association of America, Military Order of the Purple Heart, Non Commissioned Officers Association, and Veterans of Foreign wars.

Those who fight and die in the service of our country deserve our highest respect and the SERVE Act strikes a balance between the sanctity of a funeral service and the right to free speech.

Its growing support in the Senate and grassroots commendation initiated, in part, by Maine’s own Zach Parker is emblematic of the immeasurable sense of appreciation and pride Americans have in our uniformed men and women and their families. In its small way, the SERVE Act is a reaffirmation of the sanctity of their sacrifices on behalf of us all.

I extend my heartfelt condolences to the families and loved ones our fallen heroes have left behind. The strength of our military servicemen and women is undoubtedly grounded in the support families provide their loved ones in uniform every day, and their unfathomable dedication merits are unending gratitude.

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