By KEVIN ECKSTROM
c. 2011 Religion News Service
WASHINGTON (RNS) A bipartisan group of senators has introduced a bill that would make it harder for protesters from a fringe Baptist church in Topeka, Kansas, to protest outside military funerals.
The Sanctity of Eternal Rest for Veterans Act, introduced by Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, comes in the wake of the Supreme Court’s 8-1 decision in March upholding the right of Westboro Baptist Church to picket military funerals.
The bill would increase the “quiet time” before and after services from one hour to two hours, and expand the protest buffer zone around a funeral from 150 feet to 300 feet. The buffer zone around access routes to and from the funeral would also grow from 300 feet to 500 feet.
Slain soldiers’ 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.”
Westboro protesters have demonstrated outside military funerals with signs that say “Thank God for Dead Soldiers,” calling U.S. casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan divine punishment for tolerance of homosexuality.
The bill, which has seven Democratic co-sponsors and six Republicans, is also supported by military groups including AMVETS, Veterans of Foreign Wars and the Military Order of the Purple Heart.
Attorney Margie J. Phelps, daughter of Westboro founder Fred Phelps, has said her small church stands ready to “quadruple” its number of funeral protests.