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Assembly Public Safety panel OKs protecting grieving military families and others from disruptive, hurtful protests
June 19, 2012
Funeral-protection measure sponsored by Sen. Ted Lieu
SACRAMENTO – A legislative public safety panel today approved on a bipartisan vote a measure by Sen. Ted W. Lieu that seeks to protect grieving families from disruptive protests while balancing constitutionally sanctioned, free-speech protections.
“This is a time, place and manner restriction,” said Lieu, an Air Force veteran, prosecutor and Georgetown University-educated lawyer. “Senate Bill 661 does not restrict the content of speech. It merely helps protect the sanctity of a memorial service.”
In March of 2011, the Supreme Court ruled in Phelps v. Snyder that a person could not be sued for tort damages for protesting at a funeral based on the content of the speech. However, the court also explicitly recognized that states have always had the right to impose time, place and manner restrictions on speech. Over 40 other states have placed time, place, and manner restrictions on protests at funerals, and courts have routinely upheld them. Lieu said SB 661 is within the guidelines of the Supreme Court’s and federal court’s multiple decisions on time, place, and manner restrictions.
“Since time immemorial, society has respected the dignity and sacredness of putting the dead to rest,” Lieu said.
SB 661 makes it unlawful for anyone to protest a any funeral, whether military or civilian, unless they are at least 500 feet away and on public property. The protesters 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, which contained a buffer zone of 1,000 feet. The governor stated he was tempted to sign the bill but ultimately vetoed it. This year’s version cut the buffer zone by half to address the governor’s concerns.
SB 661 is supported by numerous organizations, including 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.
Approved by the Senate last January, SB 661 now goes to the Assembly Judiciary Committee. No date has yet been set.
For more, including a Fact Sheet on this bill or an audio interview where Sen. Lieu explains the need for SB 661, 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.