OKLAHOMA CITY Boisterous protests at funerals, like those conducted by members of a Kansas church, would be banned under legislation passed Tuesday in the Oklahoma House.
Supporters, including Disabled American Veterans, said the bill and a similar measure passed by the state Senate last week will prevent demonstrations by members of a Topeka, Kan., church who claim soldiers are being struck down by God for fighting for a country that harbors homosexuals, referring to the United States.
“This will protect our soldiers from disrespectful behavior,” said Danny Broyles, a Vietnam veteran and spokesman for the disabled veterans.
Anti-gay protests have been conducted at military funerals in Oklahoma and other states by members of the Westboro Baptist Church, who chant and carry signs thanking God for improvised explosive devices, a major killer of soldiers in Iraq.
Broyles and other supporters have said the protests defile the memory of soldiers who sacrifice their lives for their country.
“You’ve got a bereaved family who’s just lost a loved one. And you want to do something like that? And you call yourself a Christian?” Broyles said.
The bill’s author, Representative Paul Wesselhoft, a Republican and a retired U.S. Army chaplain, dedicated the measure to the memories of three Oklahoma soldiers kill in Iraq or Afghanistan.
At least 14 states are considering laws aimed at the funeral protesters. The House measure would restrict picketing and demonstrations within 500 feet of a cemetery, church or home where a funeral or memorial service is being conducted and prohibits protests within two hours before or after a funeral service.
Violations would be a misdemeanor punishable by 60 days in jail.
Wesselhoft has said lawyers for the Kansas church have warned that they will challenge the bill if it is signed into law. But he said there is broad public support for restricting the funeral demonstrations.
If it becomes law, the measure will apply to all groups, not just Westboro Baptist Church.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, February 24, 2006.