A measure aimed at preventing groups like Westboro Baptist Church from protesting at funerals advanced in the North Carolina state legislature Wednesday and is headed for Gov. Pat McCrory’s (R) desk to be signed into law.
The “Respect Our Fallen Heroes” bill, which expands on a 2006 law limiting when and where picketers can demonstrate at funerals, would require groups like Westboro to vacate the funeral area for at least two hours before and after a ceremony, and to stay at least 500 feet away during the funeral. The measure would also enforce stricter punishments for those who break the law.
The North Carolina state Senate unanimously passed the bill on Wednesday, two weeks after the state House voted 118-0 to advance the measure. According to WRAL, McCrory’s staff said Wednesday that the governor supports the bill.
“It’s always very, very difficult for the families of the deceased soldier to deal with that reality and to get through, to be able to mourn their loved one who’s no longer with us,” state Rep. John Szoka, the bill’s lead sponsor, said earlier this month. “And these groups who like to interject themselves into that process, to make some political statement – that’s just abhorrent to me. I think families should be left alone to get through the process of honoring the fallen soldier.”
The Topeka-based Westboro Baptist Church is infamous for its anti-gay protests at funerals and other events across the country. The group frequently targets military funerals, claiming that American deaths in combat are God’s punishment for the United States’ tolerance of homosexuality. But as the group’s notoriety has expanded, so have the legal efforts aimed at curbing its controversial protests.
Last August, President Obama signed the Honoring America’s Veterans Act into law. The legislation put tougher restrictions on protests at military funerals, countering a 2011 Supreme Court ruling that found that Westboro’s efforts were protected by the First Amendment.
And last week, a measure similar to the one passed in North Carolina advanced in the Florida legislature. Lawmakers expect the bill to pass both chambers.