Soldier's father reacts to ruling on funeral protests

March 2, 2011 9:05:56 PM PST
The Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that the First Amendment protects fundamentalist church members who mount anti-gay protests outside military funerals, despite the pain they cause grieving families.

One Chicago-area father who has experienced the protests firsthand reacted to the ruling.

Military service is a deep part of Bob Ochsner's family history. His wife, two sons and daughter-in-law all served. And the former army officer served in Vietnam. He experienced the anti-war protests of the time first hand when he returned to this country.

"Being yelled at, it was an amazing thing. You have to keep control. At that particular time, I did not know what they were protesting," said retired Army Officer Bob Ochsner.

Those protests, however, were minor compared to what he and his family had to face when they buried their oldest son, Jim, five years ago.The army officer was killed by an IED in Afghanistan. Protesters showed up at the funeral holding offensive signs designed to get attention for their shock value.

"I just try to ignore it," said Ochsner.

The protesters from a Kansas church vehemently opposed to homosexuality have shown up at military funerals around the country including the burial of Lance Corporal Matthew Snyder, whose family sued them for inflicting emotional distress. After winning the first round, the Supreme Court overruled the lower court, finding in favor of the protesters.

"We found out today that we can no longer bury our dead in this country with dignity," said Albert Snyder, father.

Chicago Kent law professor Steven Heyman helped the family in the case.

"This is not the time and place for this sort of verbal attack on the family," said Heyman.

Sergeant James Ochsner ironically made the ultimate sacrifice to preserve the rights of protesters. His father tries not to think much about them.

"Any people that would do this don't deserve the attention. May God have mercy on their soul," said Ochsner.

Many states, including Illinois, have laws that restrict the time and place of protesters. While the Supreme Court ruling did not address those laws directly, it suggests they are appropriate.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.