From the office of Sen. J.B. Jennings:
The U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled that hateful military funeral picketers are protected by the First Amendment’s freedom of speech provision, but that doesn’t mean that groups such as Westboro Baptist Church deserve free reign in Maryland.
Senator J.B. Jennings has co-sponsored Senate Bill 977 to increase the distance a person must remain away from a funeral, burial, memorial service, or funeral procession while picketing or protesting. Current law requires that such disruptive behavior be kept barely at arm’s length (100 feet), while the new legislation would increase the perimeter to 500 feet.
“Picketers shouldn’t have front-row privileges,” explained Sen. Jennings.
“While the Constitution may allow them to exercise their right to free speech- to hate speech, really- I believe that families have a right to a dignified goodbye to their loved one. This bill will keep those who would disrupt and disrespect funerals at a more appropriate distance.”
The issue was first brought to attention in 2006, when members of Kansas’ Westboro Baptist Church picketed the funeral of Lance Corporal Matthew Snyder in Westminster. LCpl Snyder was a 20-year-old U.S. Marine from Maryland killed in Iraq. Since then, the church has picketed many military and victims’ funerals in addition to desecrating the U.S. flag, and is widely described as a hate group.
The issue came to the forefront again last month when the Supreme Court ruled against LCpl Snyder’s father, Albert Snyder of Westminster, in a lawsuit against the church.
“We can’t buck the Constitutional protections for free speech even if that speech is unconscionable, but we can do something about it. Keeping picketers 500 feet away will make it much more difficult for their hateful message to be heard by the grieving families,” said Sen. Jennings.
Sen. Jennings currently is on active-duty military orders with the Air National Guard at Fort Robins Air Force Base in Georgia. He added that this bill was a “no-brainer” for him and said, “I hope- I would expect- the bill to gain full support from my colleagues” in the General Assembly.
Chel Jump says
Does free speech trump a hate crime?
I think making it 5,280 feet would make it a better law. SCOTUS did say that the distance restriction was fine. So people can protest from a mile away!
The sad thing is, if a church wanted to stand in front of a church where a funeral was being held and hand out tracts and witness for Christ, most would treat them with the same contempt as Westboro Baptist.
Yes but common courtesy says that you should not be using someones funeral service to prostelitize. It is just bad form. Same with someones wedding.
Funerals should not be a place for anyone to advertise anything or any belief. The distance should be 1000 feet. People have the right to not be interupted at this time.
Edgewood Resident says
They should pass a bill that makes it perfectly legal to beat the crap out of these “Aini-American” hate preachers. Remember if it wasn’t for these soldiers fighting for your freedom, you would not be able to do what you are doing. In many other countries they would have been shot on site for doing the same thing.
Brandt Hardin says
What are Fred Phelps and the WBC afraid of? Rainbows? Unicorns? A flaming pink queer apocalypse? I attempted to address this with a portrait of the good reverend on my artist’s blog at http://dregstudiosart.blogspot.com/2011/03/fred-phelps-and-westboro-baptist-church.html Drop in and let me know what you think!
Even if they have to stay further away these sickos would most likely begin using megaphones or loud speakers in order to disrupt the funerals anyway. These people need to be held accountable for their actions. Hopefully one of their members dies soon and people cadmium picket THEIR funeral.
Jim Kendall says
Has anyone thought of testing the water, back in Kansas in the area of Westboro “Baptist” “Church”?
Maybe they’d find something in the water that has driven that whole family insane; like lead in the water that led to lead-in-the-head syndrome.