Conrad pushes to strengthen protection of military funerals

Kent Conrad

FARGO – In response to last week’s Supreme Court ruling in favor of the Westboro Baptist Church, North Dakota Democratic Sen. Kent Conrad says he wants to strengthen legislation that protects military funeral services from the presence of protesters.

In 2006, Conrad helped craft a law that bans protesters from within 300 feet of military funerals – but he said today that it won’t be enough in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision.

“I am a staunch defender of the Constitution, and a believer in free speech.  However, I believe the rights of protesters must be balanced against the privacy rights of a family in mourning,” Conrad said in a statement.  “Disrupting military funerals goes beyond the bounds of decency.  It must stop, and it must stop now.”

The Westboro Baptist Church has become well-known across the United States for picketing the funerals of fallen soldiers in a show of the group’s extreme opposition to homosexuality.

Members of the Topeka, Kan.-based church protested in Fargo in 2006 at the funeral of National Guard Spc. Michael Hermanson, who died while serving in the Iraq war.

A father of a soldier eventually sued the church after its members protested at his own son’s funeral. Last year, Conrad had joined in an amicus brief in the case, in which he argued that private persons have the right to a peaceful funeral and that protests like Westboro’s are not protected by the First Amendment.

But on March 2, the Supreme Court ruled 8-1 in Snyder v. Phelps that the First Amendment gives members of  the Westboro Baptist Church the right to picket funerals.

“We must put an end to the harassment and give the families of the fallen the dignity, peace, and respect they deserve,” Conrad said. “I will work with my colleagues in the Senate and veterans’ groups across the nation to further strengthen the Constitutional federal criminal law we already have in place to protect families of the fallen.”

7 thoughts on “Conrad pushes to strengthen protection of military funerals

  1. Pingback: Staff blog: Conrad pushes to strengthen protection of military funerals | North Dakota News

  2. i agree wholeheartedly with Senator Conrad. The First Amendment is our most precious right. But I find the actions of these “Christians” to be obscene and indecent. I am not a big fan of the war in Iraq myself, but I firmly support our soldiers and am grateful for their service and sacrifices. When a husband and wife are trying bury their son, you don’t show up at up the funeral with a sign that says, “God Loves Dead Soldiers”. That is shameful and repulsive.

  3. Westboro Baptist Church is engaged in harassment. They deal in hate and bigotry. This is far less a free speech issue than a criminal enterprise that can get away with what they do because they are a “church”.
    What would Jesus do? What would he say about this so-called church?
    If you are going to use the Bible to defend the WBC, please try to contain your references to the Gospels. After all, that is where the only references to Christian Christ are in the Bible.

  4. No one likes war, but to harass a family in mourning is beyond the beyonds! Thier signs belittle the true message that Christ taught which was to “Clean the spots in your own eyes first before you worry about your brothers” and to “Love thy neighbor as you love thyself” Two small passages that are the very essence of his teachings. Most of all “Judge not! And ye shall not be judged! It is ok to have opinions, but something else to cause pain to others with malice, which is what WBC is really doing.

  5. I don’t think you’ll find anybody that will defend the actions of the WBC. They’re disgusting, vile human beings. The issue here, however, is speech. What they’re spewing is offensive, but it is still public speech in a public place — and protected by the first amendment. Protected speech is one of our most cherished rights, and I think we should be very careful before scaling it back.

  6. the inbred Phelpses need to start taking their meds and leaving veterans and their families alone. if not, well, they’re tossing out what some of the likely Sergeants in the crowd are used to taking care of behind the barracks. “hey, honest, officer, I had a flashback and responded like I still had my unit.” I couldn’t vote to convict.

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