In recent months, we’ve seen a disturbing number of headlines across the country about radical groups protesting military funerals, intimidating and threatening families, friends and other loved ones of the deceased who have come to grieve and pay their respects. My Assembly colleagues and I decided that this was unacceptable, and we passed legislation that would protect both the privacy of funeral-goers and the sanctity of the heroes they are mourning. The families and friends of our nation’s bravest heroes deserve better than to be heckled and harassed at such a somber and difficult time.
Our legislation would increase the buffer zone for protesting around a religious service, funeral, burial or memorial service from 100 feet to 300 feet (A.7698) and would require any group protesting one of these to obtain a permit from the municipal government (A.7697). Furthermore, it would make such a disruption or disturbance a class A misdemeanor, punishable with fines.
Throughout our history, first-amendment protections have been tailored with respect to time, place and manner. This situation is no different. There is a time and a place for political speech and a military funeral is simply not the appropriate forum for such demonstrations. We recognize that the right to free speech and the right to a funeral free from verbal assaults are not mutually exclusive, and our legislation reflects this view.
With this legislation, New York has joined the efforts of 25 other states, as well as the federal government, to protect the sanctity and privacy of military funerals. Here in Rockland, County Legislator Ed Day (R-New City), a military dad himself, has submitted legislation that would protect all funerals from disruption and disturbance.
Our fallen soldiers should be accepted as heroes of the highest order, not used as a political tool for those seeking to draw attention to their own radical views. This legislation would help preserve the dignity and memory of those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice serving our country and will protect their loved ones’ right to privacy and grief.