Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., said Tuesday he will work to develop legislation to strengthen laws protecting military funerals – a big topic right now after a March 2 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that the First Amendment protects the rights of members of the controversial Westboro Baptist Church to protest outside military funerals.
While Conrad said he’s a “staunch defender” of the Constitution and free speech, he said disrupting military funerals “goes beyond the bounds of decency” and “must stop.”
Here’s a statement issued by Conrad on Tuesday morning:
Washington â€” In wake of a Supreme Court ruling declaring the First Amendment protects the rights of members of a radical church to protest outside military funerals, Senator Kent Conrad today said he would work to develop legislation strengthening a 2006 law he helped craft banning protestors from within 300 feet of military funeral services.
“I am a staunch defender of the Constitution, and a believer in free speech.Â However, I believe the rights of protesters must be balanced against the privacy rights of a family in mourning,” Senator Conrad said.Â “Disrupting military funerals goes beyond the bounds of decency.Â It must stop, and it must stop now.”
On March 2, the Supreme Court ruled in the case of Snyder vs. Phelps that members ofÂ the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas have the right to picket the funerals of fallen servicemembers. Last year, Senator Conrad joined in an amicus curiae brief arguing that private persons have the right to a peaceful funeral, and that protests like Westboroâ€™s are not protected by the First Amendment.
In 2006, Congress passed â€” and the President signed â€” legislation co-sponsored by Senator Conrad to preserve the sanctity of America’s fallen soldiers. The bipartisan legislation built upon an existing federal law prohibiting demonstrations at and around “national cemeteries” during military funerals.Â Senator Conrad’s bill broadened the ban to prohibit protests within 300 feet of “any military funeral” and along the route of a funeral procession.
In the case ruled on by the Supreme Court, the father of a Marine who was killed in the Iraq war sued Westboro Baptist Church for intentional infliction of emotional distress after church members picketed the funeral of 20-year-old Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder. The protesters stood 1000 feet outside Snyder’s church funeral holding up picket signs that carried messages of hate.
“We must put an end to the harassment and give the families of the fallen the dignity, peace, and respect they deserve.Â I will work with my colleagues in the Senate and veteransâ€™ groups across the nation to further strengthen the Constitutional federal criminal law we already have in place to protect families of the fallen,” Senator Conrad said.