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'Honoring Veterans' Law Passes Congress; Curbs Funeral Protests

Normally, any law that restricts the freedom of speech is one that makes us cringe. After all, unfettered debate and discourse are what makes this country so amazing. We can criticize local government, the fashion choices of others, or idiot criminals that pick on 87-year-old war veterans.

Sometimes, however, that free speech is abused. Sometimes it becomes necessary to curtail the rights of one for the benefit of many. Perhaps then, the law passed by Congress yesterday to curtail protests at military funerals is a good thing.

“The Honoring America’s Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act of 2012” is now headed for the president’s signature. When that happens, disruptive protests at military funerals will become criminal offenses, punishable by jail time, fines, and even subject to civil liability.

The lengthy 45-page bill addresses a number of matters, including funeral protests. News accounts from CNN and the Huffington Post had differing reports on what the law actually said, so we took the time to read through the small print and break it down to its individual parts.

The criminal provisions are covered here. For the civil liability provisions, see our Personal Injury blog.

For 120 minutes before and after the funeral:

  • No protests are allowed within 300 feet of the premises;
  • No idiots on loudspeakers are allowed to disturb the proceedings;
  • No protests are allowed within 500 feet if they are blocking the roads to and from the funeral;
  • No protests on or near the boundary of the homes of the relatives of the deceased;
  • No idiots on loudspeakers disturbing the homes of the families.

Violations of the law will be punishable by up to one year in jail, plus a fine. The law will also allow judges to grant an injunction (or court order) before the protests to prevent them from happening altogether.

As lawyers and legal scholars, we can’t help but have mixed feelings about this law. While the Westboro Baptist nutjubs are disruptive and disrespectful human beings, we must always be aware of the slippery slope. First we beat Occupy protestors. Then we muzzle the WBC protests. Then what?

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