Those protesting at funerals would be required to keep their distance from the site of the service and cemetery, under legislation introduced in the state House. The legislation effectively increases the distance from 500 feet required by present law to 1000 feet.
A spokesman for the Republican Caucus said the law falls in line with most other states.
“Forty four states and the federal government have laws that keep protestors at a distance from certain sites,” said Joe Pistorio. “This bill falls in line with those limits.”
Laws that keep protestors at a distance are designed to maintain a balance between the right to protest and the integrity of the service or ceremony, according to a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
“People clearly have a right to protest but they also can’t be disruptive,” said ACLU attorney Mary Catherine Roper. “These laws are designed to maintain that balance and have been overturned occasionally when they don’t.”
Pistorio said the bills stem from anti-gay protests by the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas at the funerals of fallen servicemen. On March 1, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the protests protected by the Constitution’s First Amendment, which protects free speech.
“We’re not too worried about what the courts might say about the legislation,” said a spokesperson for the Caucus. “Our thinking is get it through and see what the courts might say, if anything, later.”