Bill that would restrict funeral protests heard
Associated Press Writer
Nevada lawmakers, military advocates and free-speech proponents resumed a struggle Wednesday over a bill to restrict demonstrations near funerals, a revised version of a failed 2007 proposal.
Assemblyman Lynn Stewart, R-Henderson, said his latest plan, AB1, takes into account the arguments raised against the restriction in 2007, and hopefully can win approval in this session.
“There is a proper time and place for political protest, and the gravesite of a fallen soldier is no such place,” Stewart added in urging the Assembly Judiciary Committee to endorse the bill.
Tim Tetz, administrator of the Nevada Office of Veteran Services, also pressed for approval of AB1, saying constitutional free speech guarantees don’t prevent lawmakers from imposing “reasonable restrictions” in such cases.
Under the bill, it would be a misdemeanor to get within 300 feet of a funeral, memorial service or ceremony with the intent to impede, disrupt or interfere with the service.
“It’s really not too much to ask,” said Tetz, adding that such restrictions have survived court tests in other states.
But Judiciary member William Horne, D-Las Vegas, questioned whether the latest plan would be constitutional. He said the bill would penalize picketers with signs that people at a funeral find disturbing, but wouldn’t penalize someone holding a sign that isn’t offensive.
Allen Lichtenstein of the Civil Liberties Union of Nevada also questioned wording of AB1, saying it doesn’t meet standards imposed in court cases around the country by “going into the realm of favored and unfavored content” of a placard or other form of speech.
Union representatives also questioned terms of AB1, asking whether someone involved in a labor dispute with a funeral home could be arrested if picketing near the funeral home during a funeral.
A key reason for the proposed legislation is the picketing at some military funerals by Westboro Baptist Church members, who say the war in Iraq is a punishment for the nation’s tolerance of homosexuality.
Members of the Kansas-based fundamentalist church contend they are entitled to protest at soldiers’ funerals under the First Amendment, which guarantees freedom of speech and religion.