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Long Island

LI kin mixed on funeral protest ruling

file - Margie M. Phelps, left, stands with

file - Margie M. Phelps, left, stands with her husband Pastor Fred Phelps and her daughter Margie J. Phelps during a demonstration outside the federal courthouse in Baltimore, Maryland, Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2007. Members of the Topeka, Kansas based Westboro Baptist Church demonstrated in downtown Baltimore where a jury is deliberating whether the church and its members can be held legally liable in a suit brought by Albert Snyder, the father of Lance CPL Matthew A. Snyder whose funeral the group demonstrated at in Westminster, MD, in March of 2006. (AP Photo/Baltimore Sun, Jed Kirschbaum) **MANDATORY CREDIT ** BALTIMORE EXAMINER AND WASHINGTON EXAMINER OUT ** Photo Credit: AP Photo/

The U.S. Supreme Court ruling upholding the right of a Kansas-based sect to protest at military funerals has drawn a range of reactions from Long Island families who have lost relatives in Iraq or Afghanistan.

"I understand the free-speech aspect of the ruling - our sons and daughters died for people to have that right," said Tim Scherer of East Northport, whose son, Marine Cpl. Christopher Scherer, was killed in Iraq in 2007.

"I'm just frustrated that they would protest at someone's wake rather than on the White House steps," Scherer said. "They are protesting a country's values at an individual's wake."

Moe Fletcher, an Island Park man whose son was killed in Iraq in 2003, denounced Wednesday's decision.

"Shame on the Supreme Court for this decision," said Fletcher, father of Army Spc. Jacob Fletcher. "This is not about free speech. This is causing injury and insult."

The high court's 8-1 ruling, which united liberal and conservative justices, upheld the actions of members of Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan. The church's more than 600 protests in the past 20 years have taken on a range of targets, from military burials to the funeral of Coretta Scott King.

Members, who display signs with gay slurs and messages such as "Thank God for dead soldiers," believe America's problems stem from increasing acceptance of homosexuals.

Last year, the Kansas church's members threatened to picket the funeral of Army 1st Lt. Joseph Theinert of Shelter Island, who was killed in Afghanistan in June.

Though demonstrators never arrived, Suffolk legislators rushed through a bill to bar demonstrations near funerals. The measure was signed into law in July.

Legis. Steven H. Stern (D-Dix Hills), who drafted the bill, said he thinks the law has adequate free speech protections and would survive a court challenge. The law allows police to keep protesters from being within 150 feet of a church, mortuary or funeral home, or within 300 feet of a cemetery from an hour before a funeral to an hour afterward.

"We included reasonable time, space and manner provisions," Stern said. "The court said reasonable restrictions that strike the right balance between individual rights and societal protections are acceptable."

Theinert's brother, William Theinert, said he supported the high court's ruling, despite the pain that the church's protests may cause grieving families.

"It is freedom of speech, and you don't want to outlaw it," said Theinert, 26. "But it would be nice if they wouldn't show up at funerals."

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