November 15, 2011 | 12:13pm
Bills filed in the Florida House and Senate would take direct action at the activities of the Westboro Baptist Church. The Kansas-based fringe church, classified by many experts as an active hate group, is well known for protesting military and other high profile funerals with signs reading "God Hates Fags," among other outrageous statements.
The identical bills, HB31
, would prohibit any form of protesting within 500 feet of a funeral. The ban would be in effect from one hour before the funeral to one hour after the funeral. The bill, introduced by Rep. Pat Rooney, a Republican from Palm Beach, originally only protected funerals for military service members, emergency response workers, elected officials, or minors, but has now been amended to include all funerals.
Several similar laws have been successfully passed on the state and federal level. Indiana, Illinois and Arizona all have similar laws, and George W. Bush signed a federal bill into law limiting protests at military funerals. Unlike some of these laws, however, Florida's version would only charge offenders with a first-class misdemeanor.
The bill is currently making its way through committee, but not all Democrats are on board.
"The same rule would now apply to neighborhood drug dealers or other criminals," said Rep. Dwight Bullard, D - Miami, according to Jacksonville.com
. "The death of that person may be celebrated by the community."
Bullard was joined in voting against the bill in committee by two other Miami-area Democrats: Patrick Julien and Barbara Watson.
The American Civil Liberties Union has often come to the defense of the Westboro Church on the grounds of free speech.
Though, no laws similar to the proposed Florida statute have been repealed by the courts yet, the church won a Supreme Court ruling earlier this year after they were sued by the family of a soldier killed in Iraq for protesting his funeral. That protest followed all local laws and took place more than 1000 feet away from the site of the funeral.
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