ANNAPOLIS, Md. (WJZ)—Stopping protests at funerals. The Supreme Court allows them. Now Maryland lawmakers are stepping in.
Kelly McPherson explains this all centers on the protest of a Maryland Marine’s funeral.
A Supreme Court decision allowing the Westboro Church to protest at funerals in the name of free speech is not the end of the debate.
The latest effort to curb the group’s right to protest is coming from Annapolis. Two bills would increase the buffer zone between the funeral and the protesters from 100 feet to 500 or even 1,000 feet.
“Let them have their free speech, but keep them away from the people who are grieving. Just the signs they put up are inhumane,” said Senator Bryan Simonaire, (R) Anne Arundel.
Maryland Marine Matthew Snyder died in combat, and the small church showed up at his funeral, spewing hate for gays. His father supports these bills.
“My son and hundreds of others of men and women have died to protect freedom of speech,” said Al Snyder, “And to have a group of 80 people degrade it and mock it is disgusting.”
“I have not run into anybody who is in opposition to this, other than the ACLU who testified against it,” Simonaire said.
The ACLU says other laws restricting protesters have been ruled unconstitutional, including one that intended to keep pro-life activists 15 feet away from abortion clinics.
But those pushing for the bigger buffer zones say the current law of 100 feet is not good enough.
“And it’s very close. It’s very close. And I kept thinking if I were mourning a family member and someone had a sign that said, ‘God bless dead soldiers’ or something like that, I’d be offended,” said Sen. Lisa Gladden, (D) Baltimore City.
U.S. Representative Dutch Ruppersburger has offered an even more extreme bill at the federal level that increases the buffer zone to 2,500 feet and prevents protests for several hours before and after a funeral.
There are two versions of this bill that will have to be consolidated before both houses can pass the legislation.