WESTMINSTER, Md. (WJZ)—Controversial church group. The Westboro Baptist Church has made headlines across the nation for protesting military funerals, including here in Maryland. Now one county is taking steps to push them back if they protest again.
Gigi Barnett has the details.
They picket soldiers’ funerals. Back in March, the Supreme Court ruled that the Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church has a first amendment right to do it.
But now in Carroll County, under a new law passed Wednesday night by county commissioners, the protest must be at least 1000 feet from a funeral or cemetery.
“We’re not saying that someone can’t protest or picket or exert their first amendment rights,” said Carroll County Commissioner Doug Howard.
Howard casted the deciding vote that broke the tie between other commissioners. He says ultimately the county wants to protect grieving families of soldiers killed at war.
“We firmly believe that if someone makes that sacrifice that we have an obligation as a community to protect them and basically respect their right to privacy,” he said.
The county says it had overwhelming support for the law, especially after Westboro Baptist picketed the funeral of fallen soldier and Carroll County native Matthew Snyder back in 2006.
“One thousand feet or better on something like that,” said Noel Grael, Carroll County resident. “They carry it a little too far, especially with something like that. When a person is grieving. How would they feel especially when one of their loved ones died and someone’s doing something like that?”
The state already has a law requiring demonstrator to be at least 500 feet from a cemetery or funeral. But Carroll County commissioners wanted more space.
“I was concerned that this was opening up Pandora’s box,” said Carroll County Commissioner Richard Rothchild, who voted against the bill. He says it’s too broad and enforcement isn’t clear.
“What are you going to do? Go up to a group and say, ‘are you protesting the funeral or animal rights?’ and if they’re protesting animal rights a block away, you’re going to say you can’t do that because there’s a funeral a block away?” Rothschild said.
Demonstrators caught picketing within 1000 feet of a funeral could also receive a $1000 fine and/or up to six months of jail time.