Co-sponsors of an Oregon House bill designed to limit funeral protests say today's Supreme Court ruling protecting the free speech rights of the Westboro Baptist Church will in fact help the legislation pass in the state Legislature.
This morning's 8-1 Supreme Court decision upheld the First Amendment rights of the Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church, known for its inflammatory funeral protests. The Court ruled that Westboro's speech, no matter how hurtful, met the public interest standard.
In his majority decision, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote that general laws creating buffer zones around memorial services were the proper response to Westboro protests.
Oregon is currently one of six states without legislation creating such buffer zones. HB 3241, introduced by Reps. Jim Weidner (R-Yamhill) and Patrick Sheehan (R-Clackamas) would establish a buffer. Their measure 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.
"Chief Justice Roberts' point is the best bullet point we can get," Sheehan said. "This decision is positive for this bill. It shines a light on the preferred solution, which is to have a buffer zone."
Weidner agreed that the decision will help move the bill forward.
"This bill is about giving people a chance to have a little space to grieve the loss of a loved one," he said. "We're not stifling anyone's free speech rights. We're just saying, give the people the right to a little privacy and the right to mourn during the service."
A public hearing on HB 3241 is scheduled for 9 am. tomorrow, Thursday, March 3 in Salem.