A bill designed to prevent disruptions at military funerals has cleared the U.S. House and heads next to the White House for President Obama’s signature.
The measure, sponsored by Sen. Olympia Snowe and inspired by a Frankfort teenager, passed the Senate in mid-July.
The Sanctity of Eternal Rest for Veterans, or SERVE, Act would strengthen restrictions for protests at military funeral services. The act would require 120 minutes of quiet time before and after military funerals, up from the current 60 minutes. It also would expand the buffer zone around military funerals to 300 feet from 150 feet, and expand the buffer zone around funeral access routes from 300 to 500 feet.
The legislation would also increase civil penalties for those who violate the law’s provisions.
Snowe introduced the legislation in April 2011, a month after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that protesters have the right to protest at military funerals. That court 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.
Snowe credits Zach Parker of Frankfort with inspiring her to introduce the SERVE Act. Parker took on a months-long quest last year as a Searsport District High School senior to raise awareness about a need to protect military funerals from offensive protests. He developed proposed legislation as part of his efforts, which began as a class project.
“Those who fight and die in the service of our country deserve our highest respect, and I commend the House and Senate for giving this issue its due consideration,” Snowe said in a statement released by her office. “Our nation has a vested interest in honoring those who serve in our armed forces, and this bill achieves that while respecting the intent of the First Amendment to our Constitution.”