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Senate and House Bills Would Ban Protesting at Military Funerals

Two bills have been introduced in the House and Senate that would ban protesting at military funerals.

The House bill, Respect for America's Fallen Heroes Act HR 5037, was sponsored by Mike Rogers (R-MI) and has garnered the support of many House members including Silvestre Reyes (D-Texas), House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Steve Buyer (R-IN), Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs Chairman Jeff Miller (R-FL), and now House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL).

Hastert issued this statement:

"I have cosponsored this legislation because the brave men and women of our military who have given their lives in service to our country deserve to be buried peacefully and with dignity. These fallen soldiers have helped us to fight the terrorists who seek to harm America's families and children. The soldiers and their grieving families should not be subject to disrespect when they have died while honorably serving the United States."

HR 5037 bars protesting one hour before, during, and one hour after military funerals at cemeteries under the control of the National Cemetery Administration or at Arlington Cemetery.

Even Bayh (D-IN) along with Saxby Chambliss (S-GA) sponsored a bill in the Senate, Dignity for Military Funerals Act of 2006 S 2452. The Senate bill bars protesting one hour before, during, and one hour after a funeral ceremony, procession, or memorial service of a current or former military serviceman or woman.

Why do we need bills like these to pass? To protect the families of our fallen servicemen and women from freaks like this.

Additional thoughts: I know many conservatives will not agree with me on this issue, and I understand why. Many are concerned about the slippery slope of free speech oppression, which is a legitimate concern.

However, I am particularly sensitive to issues that pertain to the military because several members of my family have been in the military. My grandfather retired a few decades ago as an Army Major and is now buried in Arlington Cemetery (he fought in WWII) and more recently, my uncle retired from the Army reserves as a Lieutenant Colonel (he fought in Vietnam and the first Gulf War).

I am humbled when I meet someone who is in the military because the sacrifice he or she agreed to take on to protect me, my family, and my country is an immense one. Not only are these people risking their lives, but their lifestyles are very hard. They move around a lot, the pay is unimpressive to say the least, and the life is stressful. Unfortunately, many military families don't make it and break up. When one of these service men or women is killed, the very least our country can offer in return is a peacful funeral without protesters one hour before, during, and one hour after.


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Comments (25)

So the antics of one crazy ... (Below threshold)

So the antics of one crazy family requires a new Federal law?

Or perhaps is there more to this problem?

How about protesting in front of VA Hospitals or WRAMC?

While people (and I use the... (Below threshold)

While people (and I use the term very loosely) who show such gross disrespect at a funeral fill me with contempt and even homocidal rage, I don't think that a law shutting them up is the right way to go. Free speech still obtains.

Now, I'm not saying that the people should be shielded from any consequences of their reprehensible actions...

Prosecutor - "Your honor, we charge the defendent with seventeen counts of assault with a deadly weapon and six counts of attempted murder."

Judge - "These are serious charges. Has the defendent anything to say?"

Defendent - "Your honor, they were a bunch of Fred Phelp's goons protesting the funeral of a Marine killed in Iraq. The things they were saying... And the poor boy's mother... I... I just lost my head, I guess."

Judge - "Phelps, eh? [considers for several seconds] The court cannot overlook violations of the law, no matter whether or not it agrees with the motives of the defendent. We are a nation of laws. [fixes the defendent with an icy stare] We hereby find the defendent guilty of criminal negligence; you should have killed the bastards. You are fined $5 for getting blood on the ground and sentenced to fifty hours of batting practice. I expect to see better results if you come before this court again! Court is adjourned."

This is a tough one. Phelps... (Below threshold)

This is a tough one. Phelps and his clan have been protesting funerals for years...primarily funerals of gay men. Apparently when that didn't get them enough attention, they decided to go after fallen soldiers.

The offensiveness and lack of decency has been felt since these hateful protests began long ago...unfortunately the outrage is a bit late for the many who previously had to endure this horror.

I appreciate the sentiment shown by the elected officials but I can't help but feel that by acting now they are making a judgment as to which people are deserving and worthy of the dignity this bill seeks to now provide.

Nonetheless, seeing Phelps shut down offers some consolation.

read more observations here:


"Congress shall make no law... (Below threshold)

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances."

Are there any conservatives who support this new law? If so, how do you square that with the Constitution? I know there are plenty liberals who don't see the Constitution as binding, but what happened to that being a foundational principle for conservatives?

I admit its in terribly poor taste to protest at a funeral, and I personally abhor the idea, but how does anyone justify asking the government to stop this? There are plenty of other things that people find offensive....

Brant,Surely you j... (Below threshold)


Surely you jest. The most egregious violation of this clause has been "law" for years, the so-called "hostile work environment" where an off-color joke can get you fired and sued. Freedom of speech, I think not.

I would drink cold vomit b... (Below threshold)

I would drink cold vomit before I would allow these s.o.bs to protest "peacefully" at any funeral i was at..

The soldiers are dying to d... (Below threshold)

The soldiers are dying to defend these peoples right to protest, it's ironic.

As to the Phelps cult, God hates them, that's why they live in Topeka,KS.....with their stupida$$ attorney general.

I don't know, I'm kind of t... (Below threshold)

I don't know, I'm kind of torn on this one. I'd prefer the passing of a law that legalized the @$$whoopings of people protesting at soldiers' funerals.

This is a hard issue to tac... (Below threshold)

This is a hard issue to tackle for me. I strongly dislike protests at military funerals, but I highly doubt a law like this would ever stand up in court. Judges will point to the First Amendment and easily strike it down.

The State of Florida is dea... (Below threshold)

The State of Florida is dealing with exactly the same issue right now. I'm sure the proposed law will pass in FL. I suspect it will at the Federal level, too, if it's carefully enough drafted.

They might have to put a distance factor in there, for example. Wackos protesting a funeral from several miles away, for instance, is probably not stoppable. Maybe 1/4 mile from the entrance to the cemetary would cut it...

I don't think it will hold ... (Below threshold)

I don't think it will hold up in court, but I am a little surprised that no Kansas legislator, House or Senate, stepped up to help sponsor this. What wimps.
As for it's success, Phelps will probably sue - and win.
There is a positive spin on this, however. When Phelps behavior was noticed by some veterans, a group called The Patriot Guard was developed. And it has really caught fire. They don't confront the protesters, they just get between them and the funeral. I've heard some unique stories regarding some incidents that the Patriot Guard Riders were quite successful in really pissing off the protestors. A recent ride I went on last month netted about 200 motorcycles and half a dozen other vehicles at a funeral in Alabama. Of course, Phelps asses didn't show at the ceremony but State Troopers were advised they were "in town" - tho not seen.

This is kinda like the "random acts of kindness" theme - maybe the Federal Courts are overbearing here and the House and Senate bills are unnecessary. We've got a solution that blocks the brain dead Phelps and honors the soldier and his family at the same time.

Keeping protestors in a cer... (Below threshold)

Keeping protestors in a certain area away from parades, inaugurals, etc. has been court tested and approved.

It could also be used locally as a restraining order by a local Justice of the Peace.

It's legal, folks.

Pass the law. The public wants and deserves it.

Roger Thornhill
Patriot Rider, and proud father of an American Soldier

Are there any cons... (Below threshold)
Are there any conservatives who support this new law? If so, how do you square that with the Constitution?

Yes and here is why:

HR 5037 bars protesting...at cemeteries under the control of the National Cemetery Administration or at Arlington Cemetery.

Clearly the government has the right to control the behavior of individuals on their property just like any other property owner does. I could not support this bill nor would it hold up to constitutional scrutiny if it were an outright ban on all protesting, but it is not an outright ban. It is limited to areas where the government clearly has a right and duty to set the rules of behavior. If they could not make such a law then they could also not make rules that tell you where you can walk in the cemetary or post hours when the cemetaries will be opened and closed. The is the same right you enjoy as a property owner when you ask your guests not to put their feet up on your table or walk through your house with muddy shoes or to stop shouting. If some guest is rude at your house then you can tell them to leave and if they refuse you can call the police and/or forcibly remove them.

Brant asked (April 2... (Below threshold)

Brant asked (April 20, 2006 07:55 PM)

Are there any conservatives who support this new law? If so, how do you square that with the Constitution?

I'm conservative and while I absolutely oppose demonstrations at funerals, I don't support a law banning such action.

Regarding kbiel's post about the regs at national cemeteries such as Arlington... I don't know that Phelps and his scummy followers have showed up at a national cemetery. If they did... Well, free speech. They can run their mouths all they want, and I would hope that the MSM would actually do its job for a change and plaster the footage all over the airwaves so every American can see what trash they are.

BUT, if they put even a scratch on a headstone, dropped the tiniest scrap of paper or other litter on a grave, or desecrate the resting place of an American soldier with so much as one dirty footprint, I'd support prosecuting them to the absolute full limits of the law. Put 'em UNDER the jail.

There's really no controver... (Below threshold)

There's really no controversy here. While I am very disappointed by those who shield themselves with the Constitution to make a complete embarrassment of themselves, they have their personal right to free speech. However, other individuals have the right to bury their loved ones in peace.

This law does not seem restrictive of an individual's rights, but one that is restrictive of the use of property. Private cemeteries have the right to dictate whatever behavior is acceptable on their grounds. Municipalities have the right to pass ordinances that prohibit behaviors that do not fit with the intended use of the land. Likewise, the Government has the right to restrict uses of Federal property, whether it be logging, hunting, atv use, or funerals.

this can probably be solved... (Below threshold)
sean nyc/aa:

this can probably be solved with no NEW laws, just enforcing laws on the books. where has that phrase come up before?

these protesters can easily be charged with disturbing the peace or trepassing or protesting w/o a permit or some sort of crime. or if they try to get a permit, deny them. the new law might carry harsher penalties, but if the laws that are already present are enforced with no leniancy (sp?), that will probably deter people pretty quickly.

on a side note, if someone is arrested under any law at one of these funerals, the ACLU will probably defend them. that damn ACLU, consistently standing up for free speech under any circumstance. how dare they!

Yeah, the Anti-Christian Li... (Below threshold)

Yeah, the Anti-Christian Liberties Union.

They stand up for free speech, as long as you;re saying what they want.

Unfortunately, I see more a... (Below threshold)

Unfortunately, I see more and more of this kind of thinking in right-wing circles, which is depressing, as it's one of the main problems with left-wing thought; it runs, "We are a nation of laws until something really really bothers us, in which case, we're not." The protests are immensely offensive. No question there is a circle in hell reserved for such protesters. There is probably also, however, one reserved for McCainite fiddling with the first amendment.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Pretty simple, I think. The protesters are abhorrent. It would be a shame to magnify the harmful effects of their troublemaking by abridging the first amendment.


BTW, kbiel, as far as the g... (Below threshold)

BTW, kbiel, as far as the government having the legal right to restrict speech on its property:

like, say, sidewalks? and what about that distance requirement people are talking about? Can I protest on my property if it's within, say, a hypothetical quarter-mile exclusion zone around a cemetery entrance? There's an easy way not to get bogged down in these nitpicky kinds of arguments about first amendment rights -STOP MESSING AROUND WITH THE FIRST DAMN AMENDMENT!-
I mean really, what did the founders have to do? Put an asterisk? ("We really mean it with this one?")

Is there some lack of clarity? Some clause which I and 200 years of constitutional study have inexplicably missed? Or is it perhaps that some people would rather have the government forcibly prevent other people from speaking or assembling because they don't like what those people are saying?

This isn't a slippery slope. It's a cliff. The first amendment either means something or it doesn't. The constitution, notwithstanding the brave efforts of the supreme court, is not a buffet.

like, say, sidewal... (Below threshold)
like, say, sidewalks

Sidewalks generally do not belong to the government. They are usually on private property and are requiremed by government and deed restrictions. You might want to study up on easements.

and what about that distance requirement people are talking about?

I didn't read anything about an exclusion zone, but then I didn't go read the text of the bill. It is clear to me that an "exclusion zone" would be unconstitutional. On the other hand, property owners should and do have a right to regulate activities occurring on their property whether they are John Q. Citizen or the big, bad federal government.

If the bill is only restricting what occurs on federally owned property then the first amendment does not apply.

I'm worried about the slipp... (Below threshold)

I'm worried about the slipperly slope implications as well. Besides, fmragtops already offered most effective solution....

I'm worried about ... (Below threshold)
I'm worried about the slipperly slope implications as well.

What don't y'all understand about this?!? It's government property and the federal government can regulate the behavior of those who choose to be on its property. If the government could not make laws or rules regarding the behavior of people on government property then there could be no rules of conduct in the senate gallery or within the White House. With the super-duper first amendment trump card y'all are proposing, any federal court building, national park, state capitol, county courthouse, city hall, et al would become a free-for-all speech zone.

If you're worried about a slippery slope with this proposal then your too late. We were already half way down that slope, traveling at terminal velocity when Cindy Sheehan was escorted out of the sendate gallery.

kbiel,I und... (Below threshold)


I understand where you're coming from, and normally I would entirely agree. Unfortunately, we've seen a lot of steady erosion of the First Amendment over the past few years, and I for one am sick of the gov and its minions telling me and my fellow Americans what they'll graciously allow us to say and where they'll kindly allow us to say it. Yes, there should be rules, but I'd rather there be too few than too many. And, like clancy and jdubious, I fear the slippery slope.

Now docjim, you and I can a... (Below threshold)

Now docjim, you and I can agree somewhat. I didn't say it was Good Thing®, it's just that it's not unconstitutional or an erosion of our rights. Fear of the power that the government has and the power it would seize for itself if left unchecked is healthy, but the fear over this bill is just misplaced. We're in our third year of the despicable McCain-Feingold/BCRA, a real (unconstitutional IMO) diminishment of our rights.

Speaking from my own person... (Below threshold)

Speaking from my own personal experience so far...
I work as a civilian mariner, a Department of Defense employee for the Military Sealift Command, in what seems is the forgotten service, the Merchant Marine.

Don't forget Military, support the Merchant Marine as well. In times of war and peace, we go out to sea to supply the United States with goods from abroad (and those working for MSC, we supply the NAVY with goods), often with minimal or NO means of defending ourselves!

Think about airplane hijackings...anytime it happens you hear it on the news. How many pirate attacks do you hear about? Piracy still happens on the high seas (albeit really only in certain areas of the world, and is a little more high-tech now), as well as any terrorist with a bunch of C-4 on a boat can blast a hole in the side of a ship!

I urge you not only support your military servicemen and women, but support the United States Merchant Marine!
-Henry Scharf
3rd Assistant Engineer
USNS Mount Baker (T-AE 34)






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