By Zack Jenkins
Early last week President Barack Obama signed into law the Honoring America’s Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act of 2012. This act set new restrictions on protests at service member funerals as well as provides a wide-range of package benefits to military personnel.
The act will greatly affect the protests of the Westboro Baptist Church, a Kansas-based organization known for loudly protesting at funerals of American soldiers. The group links the deaths of American soldiers to the increasing acceptance of gays in society and proudly boasts an official URL of GodHatesFags.com.
The Supreme Court ruled in 2011 that the Westboro Baptist Church was protected under the First Amendment to express their antigay opinions outside of funerals. Their message is commonly seen across the Internet and on TV.
The new legislation states that protests must be held at least 300 feet (roughly a football field’s distance) from military funerals and cannot occur within two hours before or after a service. Though the act would impose a fine of up to $50,000 in statutory damages on protesters and possibly jail time for repeat offenders, members of the church responded defiantly.
Church spokesman Steven Drain told CNN that the new law was “not going to change our plans at all.”
Some communities have blocked the protesters by forming human walls and cheering continuously so that the funeral goers cannot hear or see the signs and shouting. A group known as the Patriot Guard Riders, a biker gang comprised almost entirely of veterans, also protests the group by forming a barrier with their bikes and revving the engines loudly to block out the hateful noise.
As church members remain defiant, it is important to note that the same penalties could also be applied to anti-Westboro protestors.