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WASHINGTON — Illinois lawmakers will consider a bill to keep protesters at least 300 feet from military funerals after a series of noisy and obscene protests in that state.

Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn unveiled the proposal Sunday and expects the state legislature to take up the issue when it returns in January.

“I don’t think there is a more solemn event they burying a loved one,” he said. “The funeral ceremonies are part of our First Amendment right to practice religion, and we ought to protect that.”

The bill, which would apply to all funeral and memorial services, would create a 300-foot zone between protesters and mourners for 30 minutes before the funeral, during the event and 30 minutes after the services.

Violating the no-protest buffer would be a misdemeanor for the first two offenses, carrying a penalty of up to 14 days in jail, and a felony after the third offense, carrying up to a year in jail.

The move comes in response to the actions of the Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church, whose members in November picketed several military memorials for troops killed in Iraq.

The group, which has protested at servicemembers’ funerals nationwide, claims veterans “have no honor” because “the nation and the military have been taken over by [homosexuals],” according to its Web site.

At a Nov. 29 funeral service in Northlake, Ill., for Army Pvt. Christopher M. Alcozer, members of the church shouted at mourners and held up banners reading “God is America’s terror” and “Thank God for dead soldiers.”

Quinn called the protest shameful and offensive.

“To hurl that at a mom or dad who is grieving is beyond the pale,” he said. “They have a right to free speech, but the families also have a right to conduct their religion without disruption.”

Quinn said the proposed restrictions mirror similar protest limits in state and federal law, and he believes they create a fair balance between the protesters and grieving families’ rights.

Several lawmakers have expressed support for the bill, Quinn said.


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