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Military Funeral Protest Bill Clears Legislative Hurdle

Westboro Baptist Church protesters

Above: Westboro Baptist Church protesters

A measure that would require military funeral protesters to stay 500 feet away from funeral services within an hour of those services taking place has cleared a legislative hurdle.

The bill by California State Senator Ted Lieu was approved yesterday by the Assembly Public Safety Committee.

Governor Jerry Brown vetoed a similar bill last year, writing in his veto message that the measure violated protesters' free speech rights - rights that were protected by a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision. That decision declared the Westboro Baptist Church had the First Amendment right to picket the funerals of fallen service members. Church members claim they protest military funerals because the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are God's punishment for America's "acceptance" of gays.

Lieu says his current bill addresses Brown's concerns by reducing the buffer zone required in the measure by half, from 1000 to 500 feet:

“This is a time, place and manner restriction. Senate Bill 661 does not restrict the content of speech. It merely helps protect the sanctity of a memorial service.”

The bill is headed next to the Assembly Judiciary Committee.

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