From the Office of House Speaker Mike Hubbard
MONTGOMERY – A hate group infamous for protesting the funerals of fallen soldiers and other victims would be forced to keep a respectful distance under a proposed new law that passed the Alabama House of Representatives today.
House Bill 238, sponsored by Rep. DuWayne Bridges (R-Valley), sets a perimeter of 1000 feet, or two blocks, for any disruption of a funeral in Alabama. The law is needed because the hate group calling itself the “Westboro Baptist Church” has disrupted the funeral and burial ceremonies of fallen military personnel, at least one victim of the 2006 school bus crash in Huntsville and murdered Auburn University student Lauren Burk.
In the wake of last year’s devastating tornado outbreak, the group publicly rejoiced at the loss of life and threatened to disrupt funerals of tornado victims in Missouri and Alabama.
“Their mission is to taunt and terrorize families of fallen soldiers, and that kind of behavior has no place in Alabama,” Representative Bridges said. “In Alabama, we honor our fallen heroes and comfort the families who lose loved ones in such tragic circumstances. Keeping these shameless demonstrations at least two blocks away will allow families to mourn in peace.”
The bill passed the House last year, but failed to receive final passage in the Senate due to a log jam on the last day of the 2011 session. Rep. Bridges said he is confident the bill will be passed by the Senate this year and be signed into law.
House Speaker Mike Hubbard thanked Rep. Bridges for his efforts to pass the bill, recalling an incident with the “Westboro Baptist Church” that hit close to home in his district.
“I’ve never seen anything more disgusting than what these people tried to do after the awful murder of Lauren Burk. She was my constituent,” Speaker Hubbard said. “Everyone has the right to free speech in this country, but families also have the right to grieve without such hateful disruptions. I applaud Rep. Bridges for proposing legislation that will offer protection and comfort to families who have lost so much.”
While a law prohibiting demonstrations altogether would be unconstitutional under the First Amendment, setting a respectable distance meets constitutional muster, Rep. Bridges said. The bill passed the House without a dissenting vote and now goes the Senate.