Illinois Expanding Ban On Military Funeral Protests

Though similar measures have been ruled unconstitutional by federal judges, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn said he will sign a bill that bans protests near military funerals on Sunday.

The "Let Them Rest In Peace Act" targets groups such as the Westboro Baptist Church, which hold signs that say "Thank God for Dead Soldiers," near military funerals and blame the tolerance of homosexuality for the loss of American lives in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Kane County Chronicle reports that House Bill 180, which Quinn is expected to sign at the Illinois state fair, "expands the perimeter of privacy protecting grieving families from protesters to 300 feet from 200 feet" and also bans protests 30 minutes before and after a funeral service.

The Respect for America's Fallen Heroes Act, which was signed by former President George W. Bush in 2006, bans such protests outside of national cemeteries, and the U.S. Senate took steps to expand that protection to all cemeteries this spring. The constitutionality of the laws, however, have been debated.

In 2010, a federal judge in Missouri tossed the state's military funeral protest ban, saying it violated the First Amendment. And while the American Civil Liberties Union does not defend the Westboro Baptist Church's message, it has defended them in court.

“The problem is, in this instance, that this is essentially a ban on images and words that folks like the Westboro Baptist Church use when they protest across the street from funerals,” ACLU spokesman Ed Yohnka told the Kane County Chronicle. “We believe it is an erroneous interpretation of the ‘fighting words’ doctrine.”

The initial ban on such protests in Illinois was signed into law by former Governor Rod Blagojevich in 2006, and the bill Quinn plans to sign Sunday will expand the existing legislation, according to the Associated Press.

The measure has bipartisan support, and support from veterans and military families.

"We have all seen the shameful protests of hate groups seeking to disrupt and derail the funerals of soldiers and other high-profile individuals, and as someone who has served our country and served alongside those who made the ultimate sacrifice, I cannot think of anything more despicable," State Rep. Jerry Costello II told STL Today last week.