North Dakotaâ€™s U.S. senators have introduced legislation that would strengthen laws protecting military funerals from protests.
Sens. Kent Conrad and John Hoeven were among the 10 senators who introduced the Sanctity of Eternal Rest for Veterans, or SERVE, Act, which was authored by Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine.
Federal laws that prohibited demonstrations at and around â€œnational cemeteriesâ€ during military funerals were expanded in 2006 to include protests within 300 feet of â€œany military funeral.â€
The SERVE Act, if approved, would require two hours of â€œquiet timeâ€ before and after military funerals, set a 300-foot buffer zone around the funerals and prohibit protests within 500 feet of routes to and from the services.
The legislation also would increase penalties on violators, who could face maximum punishments of a $50,000 fine or up to two years in prison.
In a written statement, Conrad and Hoeven said theyâ€™ve been working on strengthening the existing laws since a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision that the First Amendment protects members of the Westboro Baptist Church from civil lawsuits.
â€œWhile I am a staunch defender of the Constitution and the freedom of speech, these vicious verbal assaults on grieving families violate their basic right to privacy,â€ Conrad said.
Hoeven said Congress needs to do everything it can to support the families of soldiers who â€œmade the ultimate sacrifice in the service of our country.â€
â€œThis legislation will strengthen their right under the law to grieve the loss of their loved one with the peace and dignity befitting a fallen hero,â€ he wrote.