Citing concerns over the Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church and its inflammatory funeral protests, two state representatives have introduced legislation in Oregon to limit picketing outside memorial services.
Introduced by Reps. Jim Weidner (R-Yamhill) and Patrick Sheehan (R-Clackamas), HB 3241 would prohibit picketing within 300 feet of funeral, burial, or other memorial services and within an hour of their beginning or end. Violators could risk up to 30 days imprisonment and a $1,250 fine.
Weidner, who has a son in the military, said such
legislation would protect mourners’ privacy. Westboro Baptist Church members
have held many protests at soldiers’ funerals, bizarrely claiming the deaths are
God’s punishment for American tolerance of homosexuality.
“If someone was to show up at my son’s funeral, it would probably incite me to violence,” Weidner said. “It infiltrates on a person’s private time to mourn over the loss of their loved one. Hitler’s family would have even deserved the time to mourn.”
Both Weidner and Sheehan said this bill is based on emergency legislation passed in Arizona after the Westboro Baptist Church threatened to picket the funeral of Christina Green, the nine-year-old victim of the Tucson shooting. Though the Church later decided not to protest, the state still pushed through the ban. At least 40 states have restrictions on funeral protests.
Sheehan said the bill has bipartisan support in Oregon, but anticipates a constitutional challenge in the courts over free speech issues. Legislation in other states has overcome such challenges, and Sheehan hopes the same will happen in Oregon.
“These things (Westboro Baptist Church protests) are completely unrelated to the funeral,” Sheehan said. “They’re just a mechanism for them to get media attention for their hate speech.”