Bill would heavily restrict funeral protests
Published: March 14, 2011
WASHINGTON — Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger has said that Congress cannot stop groups like the Westboro Baptist Church from picketing military funerals, after the Supreme Court upheld the groups’ First Amendment rights last month. But the Maryland Democrat also believes that lawmakers can put restrictions on those protests to protect mourning families.
Last week, Ruppersberger introduced legislation that would prohibit protests five hours before and five hours after military funerals, and force protestors to gather at least 2,500 feet away from the event. He said the rules would preserve the protestors’ right to free speech without harassing the military families.
“I didn’t like the Supreme Court decision, but I understood it,” Ruppersberger said. “But the court has recognized the right to regulate the time and place of those protests -- if it’s reasonable. And I think it’s reasonable to have these families come and go to the funeral without being impacted by the protests.”
In 2006, Congress passed similar legislation limiting protests of military funerals at national cemeteries to at least 500 feet away and not within one hour of the start and end of the ceremony. Ruppersberger’s measure builds off that and would apply to any military funeral.
Individual states have adopted similar measures in the past, but Ruppersberger said a federal law would provide basic protections to all military families. He’s confident his colleagues on both sides of the aisle will support the idea, but no hearings have been scheduled yet on the issue.