The city of Yucaipa rallied around the family as did local political leaders such as Assemblyman Paul Cook and San Bernardino County Third District Supervisor Neil Derry. Both Cook and Derry served in the United States Marine Corps. Derry remarked today, “This is a crusade for attention by misguided fools dishonoring our heroes.” The protest did not materialize.
In a press release issued yesterday, Cook encouraged members of the community to support the family. Cook stated, "Davis is a true hero. Unfortunately, a hate group is threatening to picket his services. Let's show his family the best of Yucaipa by supporting his sacrifice and commitment to our freedom in a manner that is reverent and respectful. The city is helping to organize people to stand along the processional route, and I encourage anyone available to support this effort.”
The threatened protest highlights the need for a bill introduced by Senator Ted Lieu, Senate Bill 661. The legislation, which passed in the Senate and is currently in the Appropriations Committee in the Assembly, would “protect grieving families from disruptive protests while balancing constitutionally sanctioned, free-speech protections,” according to a statement from Lieu’s office. “SB 661 makes it unlawful for anyone to protest a funeral unless they are at least 500 feet away and on public property. The protesters also cannot disrupt the actual funeral services.”
“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 2011, the Supreme Court ruled in Phelps v. Snyder that states have always had the right to impose time, place and manner restrictions on speech. More than 40 other states have enacted such restrictions on protests at funerals, and courts have routinely upheld them.
“Since time immemorial, society has respected the dignity and sacredness of putting the dead to rest,” Lieu said.
Lieu introduced an almost identical bill last year but it was vetoed by Governor Jerry Brown because the buffer zone was 1,000 feet. That distance has been cut in half with SB 661 to address the governor’s concerns.
Cook said of SB 661, "Individuals protesting the funerals of deceased military service members are cowards seeking publicity at the expense of families during a most difficult time. These families have a right to lay their loved ones to rest with dignity and without disturbance. This isn't a perfect solution to a constitutional problem, but it's very necessary given the confusion in courts throughout the nation."
Derry added, "I support any efforts to protect the memories of our fallen heroes. And the families of the men and women who died while serving their country deserve the ability to grieve in peace without being troubled by the disgusting efforts of a group like the Westboro Baptist Church."
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.