Obama signs new law banning protests at military funerals, targets Westboro Baptist Church
In a ceremony at the White House (President’s remarks), President Obama yesterday signed HR 1627, the Honoring America’s Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act. Section 601 of the Act prohibits demonstrations (including picketing, speeches and handbilling) within 300 feet of a military funeral or at the residence of the deceased service member or veteran’s family during the period from 2 hours before to 2 hours after the funeral.
“The graves of our veterans are hallowed ground. And obviously we all defend our Constitution and the First Amendment and free speech, but we also believe that when men and women die in the service of their country and are laid to rest, it should be done with the utmost honor and respect,” the President stated.
It also prohibits activities within 500 feet of a military funeral that willfully impede access to it.
The section was presumably in response to widely publicized picketing of military funerals by members of the Westboro Baptist Church who carried signs, which among other things, protested U.S. acceptance of homosexuality.
In a case last year (read here), the U.S. Supreme Court upheld Westboro’s activity as protected by the 1st Amendment.
The Act signed by the President limits its demonstration ban to individuals who willfully make noise or diversion that intentionally disturbs (or tends to disturb) the peace and good order of the funeral. In its Westboro decision, the Supreme Court emphasized that the demonstration at issue in that case did not disrupt the funeral.