Verne Strickland / Blogmaster / February 28, 2013
N.C. bill to limit funeral protests passes unanimously in state Senate
The American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina has questioned whether the restrictions violate the U.S. Constitution's protections of free speech and protest. Supporters of the legislation, such as bill sponsor Rep. John Szoka of Cumberland County, say loud, anger-inducing protests violate the rights of families seeking to bury their loved ones in peace.
The 2006 law says that protesters must leave the proximity of a funeral at least an hour before it starts and can't return until an hour after it ends. Current law requires protesters to stay at least 300 feet away from the service.
The new law would expand the time to two hours before and after the funeral and require protesters to stay 500 feet away.
The bill also toughens the punishment for breaking the law.
Members of the Westboro group travel the country to protest at military funerals and other events, saying that the deaths reflect God's wrath for a nation that is growing more accepting of homosexuality. In the fall a small group from Westboro protested a military funeral in Raeford. Hundreds of counter-protesters gathered to stand between them and the grieving family and friends of a N.C. National Guard soldier who was killed in Afghanistan.
The Raeford police chief said the Westboro group obeyed the law and cooperated with law enforcement; a counterprotester was arrested after he charged at the Westboro members.
Fayetteville and Cumberland County law enforcement said that they have never charged anyone with violating the 2006 law.