The US Congress has passed a new veterans bill that will severely restrict the ability of members of the Westboro Baptist Church to disrupt military funerals.
The Huffington Post reports that "The Honoring America’s Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act of 2012," which is being passed to President Obama's desk, will prevent demonstrators from picketing military funerals for two hours before and two hours after the service. The bill will also require protesters to be at least 300 feet away from grieving family members of dead war veterans.
The part of the veterans bill restricting protesters at military funerals was introduced by Senator Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), who was responding to a teenage constituent's urging. The new limitations on military funeral demonstrators responds to a 2011 Supreme Court case in which it was ruled that demonstrations such as the Westboro's were protected under the First Amendment. The Supreme Court ruled 8-1 that picketing at funerals, no matter how hurtful, are protected by the First Amendment.
Following the Supreme Court's decision, people have been forced to resort to counter-protests as the only way to block groups such as Westboro Baptist whose frequent targeting of military funerals with offensive hate messages have deeply offended the American nation. Digital Journal reports that recently, a Facebook organized group successfully staged a zombie counter-protest against Westboro.
ABC reports that the bill was passed after a threatened protest at a military funeral iin Rancho Cucamonga failed to take place. A US Marine, Sgt. Joshua Ashley, killed in Afghanistan, was laid to rest Thursday, ABC reports.
Many Americans are supporting the new bill. Susan McGrail of Ranco Cucamonga, said: "I think that's great. And I would sign anything and stand up for it and say 'Good.' That's what we need to do."
But some Americans who oppose Westboro still say the bill infringes on the cherished right of free speech. ABC reports Danny Otanez said: "There's a crossing of the boundaries of freedom of speech, and so I believe in that as well. Everyone has a right to say what they think."
According to ABC, the bill could face legal challenges.
The Huffington Post reports that besides the measure to restrict protests at military funerals, the veterans bill also contains other measures dealing with veterans health, benefits, housing and education.
The president is expected to sign the bill into law later in the month.