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March 8, 2011

Dutch proposes limits on funeral protests

Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger on Tuesday provided more details of his bill to limit protests at military funerals.

The Baltimore County Democrat is introducing the “Safe Haven for Heroes Act” in response to the Supreme Court ruling last week upholding the right of the Westboro Baptist “Church” to protest America’s supposed tolerance of homosexuality at memorial services for fallen troops.

The legislation would prohibit protests for the 5 hours preceding a military funeral and the 5 hours after. Protests before or after those limits could be held no closer than 2,500 feet from the funeral facility.

“I believe the Constitution allows for reasonable restrictions on the time, place and manner of protest activities,” Ruppersberger said in a statement. “This bill enables groups like Westboro to exercise their right to free speech without disrupting the funerals themselves or forcing funeral participants to encounter the protesters.”

The Supreme Court case stemmed from the group’s crude demonstration outside the Westminster funeral of Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder in 2006.

The small group, which consists largely of members of a single family, has created an outsized profile in the media with picket signs that read “God hates fags” and “Thank God for dead soldiers” and a website that has featured stick figures engaged in anal sex and an animation showing torture/murder victim Matthew Shepard in Hell. It has been identified by the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group.

Snyder’s father has endorsed Ruppersberger’s legislation.

“I thank Congressman Ruppersberger for introducing this bill,” Al Snyder said in a statement released by Ruppersberger’s office. “At this point, if the courts will not step in to help military families, we need all the help we can get from our elected officials.”

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 4:12 PM | | Comments (15)


I applaud Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger for standing up to this hate group. While this group is permitted to invade the privacy of a honorable service man or service woman's final farewell, our military is out there fighting for their rights to be able to do so. It makes me sick that we are all just sitting idly by and allowing this to become the norm. So what's next? Does the KKK get to go out there and do whatever they see fit to do as well all under the guise of Freedom of Speech?

The demonstration at the Westminster funeral could not be seen from the funeral. This Snyder guy only heard about it later. What difference does it make if the protestors are 100 or 10,000 feet away? How is he going to define "protest?" Can no one attending the funeral voice their opinion about anything? If someone mentions how they hate the terrorist that killed the servicemember, is that not a protest? This is entirely unenforcable.

These darn hate groups are mean and cruel and should not have as many rights as they do. The KKKx clan are not as cruel as these people are. I hope the Bill passes and I salute Rep.Ruppersberger for this.

While I commend Ruppersberger for this attempt, I feel it falls short. The bill should protect all funerals not just military. for instance Ruppersberger bill would allow the westboro baptist church to protest at the funeral of a gay man killed because he was gay (e.g. Mathew Shepard). Please amend the bill to cover all funerals.

I think that the Westboro church's demonstrations are misdirected and hurtful to the grieving families of fallen soldiers. That being said, the Supreme Court just ruled in their favor to demonstrate. As inappropriate as their demonstrations are, its even worse to try to legislate ways around the Constitution. As much as this church disgusts me, it would be worse to me if their first amendment rights were violated. We need to counter this church by showing up in great numbers in whatever town their demonstrating in, and showing support for the grieving families. Silence them by outrepresenting them, not taking their rights away.

It's about time this group is finally recognized for what it is; a HATE group, pure & simple. I'm in the USAF and I'm fed up with this type of treatment by some of my fellow "Americans".

Ugh, groups like this make it so hard to defend free speech, but I'm still in favor of free speech, disgusting as it is sometimes. I see this as government taking advantage of a situation to infringe on one of our most essential liberties.

Want to see Fred Phelps friends and family dry up and go away? Ask the media to stop covering them. No camera, no coverage.

I dont think what the WBC is doing is okay, but comments like Sandra's really show how little people actually think of the situation. YES the WBC is unbelievably disrespectful and tactless, but they should NEVER be compared to the KKK.

While their message is one of hate, the only harm these people do are to other's FEELINGS. The KKK were/are MURDERERS. Aside from getting in your face and saying things you dont want to hear (and at the worst possible time), the WBC has done nothing wrong.

People in this country need to grow some stones and take that old "sticks and stones" proverb to heart.

Just what we need, more stupid laws. Remember when Ruppersberger was Balto county exec and he tried to use eminent domain to kick people out of their homes in Essex.

Harassment by religious extremist

Jehovah's Witnesses instigated court decisions in 1942 which involved cursing a police officer calling him a fascist and to get in your face at the door steps,....this same JW 1942 court decision upheld infamous Phelps hate church in 2011
Danny Haszard

Although I disagree most of the time with Dutch, I have to agree with him now. As a strict conservative republican, I abhor the activities of this far right wing hate group. The Westboro church people are about hate and at the end of the day, we may very well need Dutch's biil to pass to possibly save some of these protester's hides.

Congress get on the ball and pass this bill
Thanks Dutch.

I think there is a thin line of free speech. What this group did was uncalled for. "Thank God for dead Soldiers" is what I'm referring too. Gay or not, the family of the person in the military deserved to say their final good bye in a way they wanted too. Not having to deal with the protesters. I don't see the protesters putting their butts on the line to fight for this country.

Isnt there some ex mil or a gay man with a medical death sentence over his head, with only 5 months to live.

Who would teach the Westboro people a final lesson. Preferably with a flamethrower.

Hitler had free speech in germany and look where that one led. the westboro bunch of psychopaths do deserve cruel and unusual, and final punishment.

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Annie Linskey covers state politics and government for The Baltimore Sun. Previously, as a City Hall reporter, she wrote about the corruption trial of Mayor Sheila Dixon and kept a close eye on city spending. Originally from Connecticut, Annie has also lived in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, where she reported on war crimes tribunals and landmines. She lives in Canton.

John Fritze has covered politics and government at the local, state and federal levels for more than a decade and is now The Baltimore Sun’s Washington correspondent. He previously wrote about Congress for USA TODAY, where he led coverage of the health care overhaul debate and the 2010 election. A native of Albany, N.Y., he currently lives in Montgomery County.

Julie Scharper covers City Hall and Baltimore politics. A native of Baltimore County, she graduated from The Johns Hopkins University in 2001 and spent two years teaching in Honduras before joining The Baltimore Sun. She has followed the Amish community of Nickel Mines, Pa., in the year after a schoolhouse massacre, reported on courts and crime in Anne Arundel County, and chronicled the unique personalities and places of Baltimore City and its surrounding counties.
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