Legislature passes bills to protect military funeral services, mourners from demonstrators

June 26, 2011

Two measures co-sponsored by Assemblywoman Addie J. Russell (D-Theresa) would further protect funeral services from disruptive demonstrators. The legislation, which passed the Assembly and the Senate would establish a 300-foot buffer zone around funeral services beyond which demonstrators could not disturb mourners (A.7698) and empower local governments to require permits for any demonstrations taking place within 1,000 feet of the services (A.7697). These bills will now head to the governor’s desk for his signature.

“These funeral services honor those who have made the ultimate sacrifice to our great county,” Assemblywoman Russell said. “Family members, friends and neighbors deserve the right to mourn and remember the loved one they just lost without disturbance.”

The first of the Assemblywoman’s bills would expand upon a 2008 law prohibiting purposeful disturbances within a 100-foot radius of religious services, funerals, burials and memorial services (Ch. 566 of 2008). Under the new legislation, that area would be increased to 300 feet, and violators would be guilty of disruption or disturbance of a religious service, funeral, burial or memorial service, a class A misdemeanor.

The second measure would authorize communities to require demonstrators to obtain permits from the locality for any demonstrations organized within 1,000 feet of a wake, funeral, burial or memorial service. It would also direct the state to devise a similar permitting system for demonstrations held on state property. Protestors who violate a permit requirement would face civil penalties, the terms of which would be left up to the individual communities. Violators on state property would face civil fines of up to $500 upon a first violation, up to $1,000 for a second violation and up to $2,000 for a third violation.

“We are sending the message that we will not allow our veterans or their families to be disrespected by demonstrators. We will not allow them to be bullied while mourning,” Russell said. “While protestors have the right to freedom of speech, a funeral is not the time or place for radical political, religious or ideological demonstrations.”