MONTGOMERY – Armed with a new law restricting the protests of funerals of fallen soldiers and other victims, Alabama lawmakers and Governor Bentley today sent a strong message to any hate groups that would show such disrespect: stay out of Alabama.
Governor Bentley today held a ceremonial signing of House Bill 238, sponsored by Rep. DuWayne Bridges (R-Valley), which sets a perimeter of 1000 feet, or two blocks, for any disruption of a funeral in Alabama. The bill passed by unanimous votes in both the House and Senate during the recently-completed legislative session.
Rep. Bridges said the law is needed because the hate group calling itself the “Westboro Baptist Church” has disrupted the funeral and burial ceremonies of fallen military personnel, at least one victim of the 2006 Huntsville school bus crash and murdered Auburn University student Lauren Burk. The group also publicly and shamelessly celebrated the loss of life after last year’s deadly tornado outbreak, threatening to disrupt funerals of tornado victims in Missouri and Alabama.
“In Alabama, we honor our fallen heroes and comfort the families who lose loved ones in such tragic circumstances,” Rep. Bridges said. “No grieving family should have to endure such disrespect, and I’m proud Alabama now has a law that will ensure families can mourn in peace. I appreciate Governor Bentley’s support on this bill and I thank him for signing it into law.”
House Speaker Mike Hubbard thanked Representative Bridges for sponsoring the bill, saying he never knew such a group even existed until its members brazenly protested the funeral of his constituent, Auburn University student Lauren Burk.
“It’s a shame a law like this is even necessary,” Speaker Hubbard said. “After seeing these people try to terrorize the family and friends of Lauren Burk, I knew that behavior had no place in Alabama. Rep. Bridges is to be commended for proposing this new law that will offer protection and comfort to families who have lost so much. Everyone has the right to free speech in this country, but families also have the right to grieve without such hateful disruptions.”
While a law prohibiting demonstrations altogether would be unconstitutional under the First Amendment, setting a respectable distance meets constitutional muster, Representative Bridges said.