Photo: Michelle M via Flickr
Monday marked an important day for the military community as President Obama signed into law HR 1627, known as honouring America’s Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act of 2012.Among the many provisions of the legislation — such as expanded care for veterans suffering from traumatic brain injury and benefits for Marines and families exposed to contaminated water at Camp Lejeune — are specific new guidelines that will impact military funerals.
Inconspicuously titled as “Prohibition On Disruptions of Funerals” (SEC. 601), the bill summarily prohibits individuals from engaging in any disruptive activity 120 minutes prior to and 120 minutes following the funeral services of a member or former member of the U.S. Armed Forces.
As several publications were quick to point out, the nature of these changes seem squarely aimed at activities conducted by the Westboro Baptist Church, which have for years attracted the consternation of many by picketing military funerals.
For those unfamiliar with Westboro’s ideology (and that term is used loosely), the group believes that the deaths of soldiers is directly attributable to America’s growing tolerance of homosexuality. Lately, though, the group’s odious exercise of the First Amendment has collected more headlines for the fervor of its counter-protesters. Twice in July large groups rallied in Missouri and Texas to form “human walls” and prevent Westboro members from disrupting military funerals as part of their “Thank God for Dead Soldiers” campaign.
In addition to enforcing a perimeter of no less than 300 feet for any demonstrations, the bill also introduces a number of penalties, including fines, imprisonment and potential litigation by anyone found to be suffering injury. In essence, the bill swings the door wide open for any number of potential lawsuits brought forward by either private citizens or the Attorney General himself, and seems to effectively reverse Westboro’s successful appeal to the Supreme Court in 2011.
Of course, the Westboro Church is already no stranger to courtrooms. Having been on the receiving end of several multi-million dollar verdicts over the years, Westboro has also been banned entry to the UK, and was once even fined by a Michigan community for failing to show up at all. This is also not the first time that Westboro has been dealt with at the federal level — the Bush administration sought to route Westboro through 2006’s Respect for America’s Fallen Heroes Act, though that bill was limited to cemeteries under the control of the National Cemetery Administration.
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