California likely to become the next state to restrict Westboro Baptist Church protests
Legislation targeting the Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church and any other would-be funeral protesters was unanimously approved Thursday by the California Assembly, according to the Sacramento Bee.
The Westboro Baptist Church believes that God is punishing the United States because of America’s acceptance of homosexuality and has gained infamy for picketing the funerals of public figures and military families with highly offensive signs.
The legislation, introduced Sen. Ted Lieu (D), would would make it a misdemeanor to protest within 1,000 feet of a funeral for one hour before or after a ceremony. The bill was approved 72 to 0 in the state Assembly. The California Senate passed it by a nearly unanimous vote in June, but must approve amendments to the bill before it heads to the governor’s desk.
The Supreme Court ruled in a 8 to 1 decision in March that the church’s widely despised protests were protected speech under the First Amendment.
“I accept the fact that the U.S. Supreme Court has the power to render harmful decisions, but protesters should not be able to disrupt actual funeral services,” Lieu said in a statement.
Illinois Governor Pat Quinn signed similar legislation on August 14. Arizona and Oklahoma also enacted similar laws this year. The measures are model on an Ohio law that was upheld by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2008.
“Individuals mourning the loss of a loved one share a privacy right similar to individuals in their homes or individuals entering a medical facility,” the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals wrote.
More than 40 states have passed laws limiting funeral protests.
The Westboro Baptist Church has vowed to fight the laws in court.
“I think this will survive constitutional challenge,” Lieu told the Sacramento Bee, “but that’s not to say there aren’t legal issues raised.”