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.