LANSING, Mich. (RNS) – There’s a difference between a boisterous protest near a veteran’s funeral and an anti-war bumper sticker on a car parked near a funeral home — but not in the eyes of Michigan state law.
A state Senate committee is considering a bill that would narrow the state’s existing funeral protest bill, which lawmakers say has affected people not intending to disrupt funerals.
The original law responded to the Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church, which has staged controversial protests at military funerals. Church members assert that military deaths are God’s punishment for tolerance of gays.
Michigan’s law keeps protesters at least 500 feet from a funeral ceremony, but state Rep. Bruce Rendon said that other people have been affected.
“A person living next to a funeral home with an anti-war bumper sticker would be in violation,” he told members of the Senate’s Military and Veterans Affairs Committee.
“Even a person mowing their lawn next to a procession or a cemetery, if they yell to a neighbor, they’d be in violation of the law, too. It’s far too broad.”
The new version of the bill would make it clear that the actions must be intended to intimidate, threaten, or harass people attending a funeral, service, viewing, procession, or burial.
The bill also covers people making statements or gestures intending to incite people attending the services or events.
The state House already approved the more specific bill, and the Senate version was supported Oct. 11 by representatives of veterans groups and funeral homes.
Lawmakers cannot legally ban such protests. A March U.S. Supreme Court ruling protects the right of Westboro Baptist Church to stage its protests.
— Dave Murray, The Grand Rapids Press
© 2011 Religion News Service. Used with permission.
Posted Oct. 14, 2011