WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Olympia J. Snowe, R-Maine, on Wednesday introduced legislation to amend existing federal funeral protest laws to help prevent disruptions at military funerals.
The bill, titled the Sanctity of Eternal Rest for Veterans, or SERVE Act, defines the time and place for protests at funerals. Specifically, the act would increase the quiet time before and after military funeral services from 60 minutes to 120 minutes; increase from 150 feet to 300 feet the buffer around a military funeral service and increase from 300 feet to 500 feet the buffer around access routes to a funeral service area; and increase civil penalties on violators.
“Those who fight and die in the service of our country deserve our highest respect. Their families have earned the right to bury their loved ones in peace,” Snowe said in a statement. “The SERVE act strikes a balance between the sanctity of a funeral service and the right to free speech.”
In March, the Supreme Court ruled 8-1 that protesters have the legal right to stage demonstrations at U.S. military funerals. The case, Snyder v Phelps, involved a military family and the controversial Westboro Baptist Church, which has used military funerals as a platform to promote its claim that God is angry for the country’s tolerance of homosexuality.
The court’s ruling, according to a news release from Snowe’s office, underscored the need for more definitive language in federal law guiding when and where disruptions at military funerals can take place, while still respecting the ability of a family to lay a lost loved one to rest.