Illinois Law Further Restricts Military Funeral Protests

August 17, 2011
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A law signed Sunday by Illinois Governor Pat Quinn puts further restrictions on protests at funerals in the state. The measure is aimed at curbing the actions of the Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church, which holds anti-gay protests at military funerals.

“Every family has a fundamental right to conduct a funeral with reverence and dignity,” Quinn said in a statement. “This law ensures that the families of those who have given their lives for our country can grieve without harassment. It is our duty to honor their sacrifice by ensuring they are remembered with the respect and solemnity.”

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The measure is an expansion on the 2006 Let Them Rest in Peace law, which was spearheaded by Quinn when he was serving as lieutenant governor under Governor Rod Blagojevich, according to The Chicago Tribune. The new measure continues to ban picketing for 30 minutes before and after ceremonies, and increases the distance protestors must maintain from 200 to 300 feet.

“I think this amendment today will make sure our families who are mourning will be protected from hate groups trying to heckle,” Quinn told The State Journal-Register. “There is not a fundamental right to heckle a funeral.”

Quinn told the paper he had once been to a military funeral where mourners were singing a song while Westboro Baptist Church protestors nearby sang about how God hates America.

The group had mentioned the funeral of a 25-year old Springfield, Illinois soldier as a possible rally spot on its website last year, according to the Journal-Register.

The Supreme Court recently ruled 8-1 reaffirming the First Amendment right of the Westboro Baptist Church to protest, the Tribune reports, overturning a lower court decision that awarded $5 million to the father of a Maryland Marine whose funeral was picketed. But the decision apparently did not affect law in 43 states designed to keep protestors away from funerals.

The new Illinois measure was applauded by Dan Hough, assistant state captain of the Illinois Patriot Guard, who attend military funerals on roaring motorcycles to overpower the sounds of protesters.

“To add another hundred feet, yes, that will help put that buffer between (them),” Hough told the Tribune, while adding that he regrets the spotlight put on the Westboro group.

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