President Barack Obama has signed into law H.R. 1627, the Honoring America’s Veterans and Camp Lejune Families Act of 2012. The bill contains federal protections for families who participate in military funerals from picketers who would use the events to advance their own political beliefs.
Click here to thank President Barack Obama for signing this common-sense bill into law.
The restrictions on picketing at military funerals have a clear target: the Westboro Baptist Church, a Topeka, Kansas-based congregation that seems to consist mainly of the extended family of the church’s pastor, the Rev. Fred Phelps. The church believes that God is judging America for its tolerance of homosexuality, and pickets the funerals of soldiers and of prominent Americans to spread what can charitably be called a ministry of hate.
In 2010 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the church was not liable for damages a lower court imposed in a case brought by the family of a U.S. soldier killed in Iraq. That was the correct decision on First Amendment grounds, in our view. But while Westboro’s message cannot be silenced, its demonstrations can be regulated. H.R. 1627 sought to do that. It prohibits pickets within 300 feet of the entrance or exit of a funeral site and within 500 feet of the border of a funeral site. It also prohibits pickets for up to two hours before and after a funeral. The idea is that it puts the church’s pickets (and those of others who may protest at a funeral) out of the reach of the deceased’s family at a time when they are understandably vulnerable.
We believe the restrictions are reasonable and should be found constitutional. There is no justification for silencing the First Amendment rights of any citizen, but courts have consistently ruled that it is acceptable to regulate the time, place and manner of speech. CMC disagrees with Westboro’s message and tactics in the strongest possible terms. The law seems to us to strike an appropriate balance between the rights of the church and the rights of the families who are most likely to be hurt by the church’s protest.
It’s appropriate to thank President Obama for siding with the First Amendment on this issue. Click here to send him an email thanking him for his action on the bill.