Free speech run amok?


Reporter - Robert Bradfield
Photojournalist - Ryan Brooker

MARION, Ill. - "As you can tell by the dark spot on his nose, that's where I kiss him."

Melinda Astin knows a simple kiss won't bring back her son. But, it does provide some comfort in knowing her only child, Brian Romines, is remembered not only for what he's done, but the person and fighter he turned out to be.

"So, if you are reading this, I guess it was my time. I'm sorry for letting everyone down, but I want you to know I've done everything possible to prevent it," Astin said as she read Romines' letter home.

On June 6, 2005, the 20-year-old Army Specialist died in Iraq when an improvised explosive device blew up his convoy. He received a full military burial in his hometown of Anna two weeks later.

When Brian was buried five years ago, his funeral was met with protest. Members of a Topeka, Kansas, church, known for picketing at military funerals, said Brian's death was a direct result of God's hatred of America.

Members of Westboro Baptist Church say it's their right of free speech to picket and it's that issue the Supreme Court plans to hear Wednesday.

"I understand the whole freedom of speech. I think there's time and places for it. I don't think a funeral is the appropriate time and place," Astin said.

According to the church's website, members have taken their message and signs to over 44,000 funerals.

Astin admits her focus isn't on the church but instead on holding on to the memories of her son's life and the 20 years she had with him.

"I think this is my third time here this week," she said. "Some days I don't come. Sometimes I come more than once a day."