MONTGOMERY – A proposed new law restricting hate groups from protesting the funerals of fallen soldiers and other victims today received final passage in the Alabama Legislature.
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 bill passed the Senate on Wednesday having passed the House in March. Both votes were unanimous.
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 Huntsville school bus crash 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.
“I don’t know what motivates these people besides pure hate, but I do know their behavior has no place in Alabama,” Representative Bridges said. “In this Alabama, we honor our fallen heroes and comfort the families who lose loved ones in such tragic circumstances. No grieving family should have to endure such a disgusting display of disrespect. Keeping these shameless demonstrations at least two blocks away will allow families to mourn in peace.”
House Speaker Mike Hubbard thanked Representative Bridges for bringing forward this legislation, especially in light of the worry that protests may be planned for funerals of tornado victims.
“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 commend 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, Representative Bridges said. The bill now goes to the Governor for his approval.