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Senate OKs protecting grieving military families and others from disruptive, hurtful protests
January 26, 2012
Funeral-protection measure sponsored by Sen. Ted Lieu
SACRAMENTO – A measure by Sen. Ted W. Lieu, D-Torrance, that seeks to protect grieving families from disruptive protests while balancing constitutionally sanctioned, free-speech protections sailed through the Senate today on a bipartisan vote.
“We’ve all seen hateful protests at military funerals,” said Lieu, an Air Force veteran and Georgetown University-educated lawyer, adding that his bill is in response to protests at funerals. “Protesters should not be able to disrupt actual funeral services.”
The issue began in 1998 when members of the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan., started picketing funerals, initially targeting individuals that they believed to be homosexual. But the Church branched out and in 2006 members protested the funeral of Mathew Snyder, a Marine who died in Iraq. Snyder’s father, Albert Snyder, filed a civil suit against the church, seeking damages.
Last March, the Supreme Court ruled with the Westboro Baptist Church in Phelps v. Snyder denying damages, concluding the protesters “had the right to be where they were.” But it also recognized that states have the right to impose time, place and manner restrictions.
“Since time immemorial, society has respected the dignity and sacredness of putting the dead to rest,” Lieu said. “This bill recognizes the sanctity of funerals by placing reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions on disruptive protestors."
Lieu’s Senate Bill 661 – which is within the guidelines of the Supreme Court's decision – makes it unlawful for anyone to protest a funeral unless they are at least 500 feet away and on public property. The protestors also cannot disrupt the actual funeral services.
Individuals found guilty of failing to comply with these restrictions face a fine of up to $1,000, imprisonment in a county jail for up to six months, or both.
SB 661 is nearly identical to a measure Lieu got through the Legislature last year only for it to be vetoed. This year’s version cut the buffer zone by half.
SB 661 is supported by the American Legion, AMVets, Vietnam Veterans of America, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, the Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs, the Riverside Sheriffs’ Association and the L.A. County Probation Officers Union.
SB 661 now goes to the Assembly for review. No hearing date has yet been set.
For more, including a Fact Sheet on this bill, visit Lieu’s Web site at the address below.
Ted W. Lieu represents nearly 1 million residents of Senate District 28, which includes the cities of Carson, El Segundo, Hermosa Beach, Lomita, Manhattan Beach, Redondo Beach and Torrance, as well as portions of Long Beach, Los Angeles and San Pedro. For more, visit www.senate.ca.gov/lieu.
Sen. Ted Lieu, Senate District 28
Capitol Building, Room 4090
Sacramento, Calif. 95814
(916) 651-4028 office; (916) 834-1128 cell