The U.S. Congress has passed and sent to President Obama a bill that greatly limits the ability of groups like the controversial Westboro Baptist Church to protest at funerals of U.S. military personnel.
Under an amendment to "The Honoring America's Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act of 2012" (H.R. 1627), demonstrators will be required to remain at least 300 feet away from roads or pathways leading to the location of the funeral and 500 feet from the actual location of the services. In addition, no demonstrations will be allowed two hours before or two hours after a military funeral.
U.S. Senator Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), introduced the amendment in reaction to the Supreme Court's recent 8-1 ruling that demonstrations such as those conducted by members of the Westboro Baptist Church were protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution.
"Protests that encroach upon the funerals and burials of our fallen soldiers are repugnant and inappropriate - and they undermine the respect military families and loved ones undeniably deserve," said Sen. Snowe on the floor of the Senate. "Our nation has a vested interest in honoring those who serve in our armed forces and this bill achieves that while respecting the intent of the First Amendment to our Constitution."
Members of the Westboro Baptist Church have gained notoriety over the last few years for conducting disruptive demonstrations during military funerals, often declaring that the deaths of U.S. soldiers resulted from "God's vengeance" for the military's acceptance of gays and lesbians.
The bill, which President Obama is expected to sign later in August, also contains measures providing for the needs of veterans, their families, and survivors through improved healthcare, housing, education benefits and services.