View Full Version : Lawmaker wants bill to protect military funerals

11-01-05, 02:25 PM
Lawmaker wants bill to protect military funerals
AP Political Writer

INDIANAPOLIS | A state senator angered about a recent protest at an Indiana soldier's funeral wants to make disorderly conduct a felony offense if it occurs at military funerals.

Sen. Brent Steele, R-Bedford, said he would propose legislation in response to an anti-gay group's protest at the Aug. 28 funeral for U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Jeremy Doyle, an Indianapolis native killed in Iraq.

Six members of the Topeka, Kan.-based Westboro Baptist Church dragged U.S. flags on the ground and shouted insults at Doyle's surviving family members outside a mortuary in Martinsville, about 30 miles southwest of Indianapolis.

"No family should have to go through this at a funeral," Steele said.

The Rev. Fred Phelps, the church's founder, contends American soldiers are being killed in Iraq as vengeance from God for protecting a country that harbors gays. The church, which is not affiliated with a larger denomination, is made up mostly of Phelps' children, grandchildren and in-laws.

Phelps and his followers, who engage in anti-homosexual picketing across the country, have targeted military funerals in recent months, including the Aug. 5 funeral of Spc. Adam Harting in Portage.

During that protest, a half-dozen members of the Westboro Baptist Church picketed for a short time before the beginning of the funeral. Across the street, dozens of people stood, many holding American flags, in support of Harting and his family.

When a picket began shouting his church's ideology, a man who appeared to be a veteran, began playing an audio tape of "God Bless the U.S.A." to drown out his shouts.

In between the two groups stood police officers from Portage and surrounding communities.

Some of the Westboro Baptist Church's statements at the Martinsville incident amount to fighting words, according to a letter the Heltonville Area Veterans sent Steele.

"We feel any funeral, especially those of veterans killed in the service of our country, deserves the protection of law," said the letter, which was signed by 20 people.

Steele said he would file a bill seeking to make disorderly conduct a felony punishable by a three-year prison sentence and $10,000 fine if committed during military funerals, be it at the funeral home, during the procession or at the grave site.

Disorderly conduct already is a felony in Indiana if committed at airports or airport parking lots, and Steele said the funerals of fallen soldiers deserve the same sanctity.

State Rep. Ralph Ayres, R-Chesterton, said the families have the right to mourn, but withheld comment on Steele's proposal.

"I'd be interested to see the legislation because obviously the funeral is a private affair," Ayres said. "... What I think Brent's trying to get to is the right of family to give respect to the individual who has died.

"I personally feel very strongly that a family has a right to mourn."

An Oklahoma lawmaker also plans to file legislation in response to a Westboro protest at a military funeral in his state in July.

That bill would make it unlawful for anyone to engage in any form of protest within 500 feet of any funeral at a home, mortuary, cemetery or church or other place of worship. The bill also would bar protests within two hours before or after a funeral, and the penalty would be a mandatory 30-day jail term.

In 1995, a federal judge threw out a Kansas law that prohibited picketing outside funerals, saying it was too vague. State legislators later enacted a new law that spelled out the time period when such picketing is barred.

Westboro members said they would fight the moves in court.

"You can't turn off First Amendment rights into disorderly conduct of any kind," said Shirley Phelps-Roeper, daughter of the pastor.

Ken Falk, the Indiana Civil Liberties Union's legal director, said he was not aware of any cases dealing with the constitutionality of funeral protests.

Republican state Rep. Paul Wesselhoft, of Oklahoma, a retired U.S. Army chaplain, said he has conducted many military funerals.

"I'm just not going to put up with that in my state," said Wesselhoft, who plans to introduce the Oklahoma bill. "They victimize a family when a family is at its most vulnerable state."

Times Staff Writer Matt Van Dusen contributed to this report.


My opinion

They did not have to make a law...
It should have been for The Respect of a Fellow American;)

11-01-05, 08:00 PM
Well its about time as far as I am concerned it should be a federal offense as we all remember your federal property until the last ounce of dirt is placed on your grave..

11-02-05, 07:51 AM
I cant believe that anyone thinks its ok to protest a veterans death???