Obama Signs Law Limiting Westboro-Style Funeral Demonstrations

By Sunnivie Brydum

Originally published on Advocate.com August 08 2012 5:33 PM ET

On Monday, President Barack Obama signed a law prohibiting protests during or near military funerals. The Honoring America’s Veterans and Caring For Camp Lejuene Families Act of 2012 also benefits military personnel and their families with improved healthcare, housing, education, and memorial services.

“We have a moral sacred duty to our men and women in uniform,” said Obama at the bill signing, according to a pool report. “The graves of our veterans are hallowed grounds.”

The legislation prohibits protests within 300 feet of a military funeral and for two hours before and after such a service. The law contradicts a 2011 Supreme Court ruling, which found that members of the Westboro Baptist Church had a First Amendment right to express their antigay opinions outside the funeral of fallen Marine.

The law is a none-too-subtle swipe at Westboro, a fringe “church” based in Topeka, Kan., and certified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Westboro's founder, the Reverend Fred Phelps, still leads the church, which is composed mostly of his immediate family members.

The antigay Westboro has made a name for itself by picketing military funerals with incendiary signs that tread dangerously close to the border of hate speech and that which is protected by the First Amendment. Westboro believes that God is killing American soldiers to punish the American people for increasingly embracing LGBT equality. The group’s brightly colored signs bear messages like “Thank God for dead soldiers,” “Semper Fag” and the ubiquitous “God Hates Fags,” which also functions as the group’s Web domain.

Westboro spokesman Steve Drain told CNN that the legislation isn’t “really going to change our plans at all.”

People who violate the Honoring America’s Veterans Act can face a fine of $50,000 and may be sentenced to jail time.