Some might say that the Westboro Baptist Church protestors are a pack of attention-seeking, nutjobs whose anti-American, anti-homosexual message has no redeeming qualities whatsoever. Others might say they are spreading the word of God.
Whether or not the you agree with their chants of "God Hates Fags!", their right to protest is guaranteed by our Constitution. However, that glorious right to speak one's mind isn't without limitations. If there is a compelling reason to restrict that speech, reasonable restrictions on the time, place, and manner of the WBC's homophobic protests can be put into place.
And they have been.
Multiple news outlets, including the Huffington Post and CNN are reporting that "The Honoring America's Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act of 2012" has cleared both houses of Congress and is headed for an expected stamp-of-approval by President Obama.
It's a pretty beefy 45-page bill, all written in small print. Fortunately, due to our sheer love for our readers, we've dug through that bill to break down the new restrictions, which have been reported in conflicting terms by the aforementioned news outlets.
As we mentioned before, in order for these restrictions to be palatable constitutionally, there has to be a pretty damn good reason for them. From the bill:
"The purpose of this section is to provide necessary and proper support for the recruitment and retention of the Armed Forces and militia employed in the service of the United States by protecting the dignity of the service of the members of such Forces and militia, and by protecting the privacy of their immediate family members and other attendees during funeral services for such members."
Sound compelling to you? It sure does to us. We'll see if the courts think the law is reasonably related to a strong state interest when it is inevitably challenged in court.
As for the restrictions, for 120 minutes before and after the funeral:
- No protests are allowed within 300 feet of the premises;
- No loudspeakers are allowed to disturb the proceedings;
- No protests are allowed within 500 feet if they are blocking the roads to and from the funeral;
- No protests on or near the boundary of the homes of the relatives of the deceased;
- No loudspeakers disturbing the homes of the families.
The punishment for violating the new law is up to one year in jail, plus a fine. The law also added provisions that allows a judge to grant an injunction to stop a protest before it happens and a provision that allows the protestors to be sued for disturbing the funeral.
If the protestor has lost the related criminal case, this law states that they cannot deny the allegations in a later civil suit. Also, the recovery in the civil suit is either actual damages to the family of the deceased or the family can elect an amount of between $25,000 and $50,000, to be set by the judge.
That's a law with some teeth! I remains to be seen whether the federal courts take a bite out of it on constitutional grounds, or not.
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