March 7, 2011
Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger says he will introduce a bill in Congress Tuesday that would make it illegal to protest at military funerals.
The “Safe Haven for Heroes Act” follows the Supreme Court ruling last week that upheld the right of the Westboro Baptist “Church” to protest America’s supposed tolerance of homosexuality at memorial services for fallen troops.
The case stemmed from the group’s crude demonstration outside the Westminster funeral of Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder in 2006.
The small group, which consists largely of members of a single family, has created an outsized profile in the media with picket signs that read “God hates fags” and “Thank God for dead soldiers” and a website that has featured stick figures engaged in anal sex and an animation showing torture/murder victim Matthew Shepard in Hell. It has been identified by the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group.
“We need to thank God for the service and sacrifice of our American military fighting for our freedom,” Ruppersberger said in a statement. “The right to free speech is a valuable liberty that we all cherish as Americans. While I respect the recent Supreme Court decision, I wanted to find a way to stop groups like Westboro from using military funerals as occasions to promote their own political agenda and inflict incalculable harm on the grieving families of our troops.”
The Baltimore County Democrat said the bill would enable groups such Westboro to exercise their right to free speech without disrupting the funerals themselves or forcing funeral participants to encounter the protesters.