Lawmakers To Consider Further Limits On Funeral Pickets

Thursday, March 10, 2011 – Robert Lang
Last week’s U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding the First Amendment rights of a church group that pickets military funerals is leading to legislation in Annapolis to place further restrictions on funeral pickets.

The bill sponsored by Baltimore City Democrat Lisa Gladden and Southern Maryland Democrat Roy Dyson would place demonstrators no closer than 500-feet from the site of a funeral service.  Current law sets the limit at 100-feet.

The current law was passed in 2006 after picketers from the Westboro Baptist Church demonstrated at the funeral of Lance Corporal Matthew Snyder, who had been killed in Iraq.

Gladden told WBAL News that her bill would apply to any funeral.

“This is about allowing the mourners their space, and allowing the picketers to express their First Amendment right of free speech,” Gladden told WBAL News today.

Gladden introduced her legislation this week. She is confident that the bill can be approved in the remaining four weeks of the Maryland General assembly session.  Gladden told WBAL News that many of her colleagues have said. “we can vote on this bill today.”

Snyder’s father sued the Westboro Baptist Church, and after a lower court awarded him $11-million, and appeals court and then the U.S. Supreme Court overturned that verdict saying the church group cannot be sued under the First Amendment.

The church pickets mostly military funerals saying the deaths of American soldiers is “punishment from God” for the U.S.  allowing gay rights.

Earlier this week, Maryland Second District Congressman Dutch Ruppersberger introduced a bill in Congress to place further restrictions on funeral protesters.

Ruppersberger’s bill  states that no one can protest any military funeral 5 hours before or 5 hours after the funeral.  He also says it says when there are protests 5 hours before or 5 hours after the funeral, protesters must be at least 2,500 feet away from the location of the where the funeral is being held.

The attorney for Westboro Baptist Church, Shirley Phelps-Roper called the Ruppersberger bill, “a blatant violation of the 1st Amendment. And how many experiments is doomed America going to do with that 1st Amendment?”

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