AZ Law Will Keep Westboro Baptist Church Hatemongers Away From Shooting Victims' Funerals

After Fred Phelps of the Westboro Baptist Church posted a YouTube video saying "Thank God for the violent shooter" that took six lives in Arizona on Saturday and vowed to picket the victims' funerals, the Arizona legislature rallied bipartisan support for an emergency measure to keep protesters away from funerals.

Reports the Arizona Republic:

Senate Bill 1101 creates a "funeral protection zone" that bans protesters within 300 feet of a funeral service. The ban applies to one hour before, during or after a funeral service. A violation is a Class 1 misdemeanor.

The bill has an emergency clause, which required a three-fourths vote of the Legislature but allows the law to go into effect immediately.

Governor Jan Brewer signed the bill into law yesterday evening.

The bill was modeled on a similar law in Ohio, which was recently upheld by the Sixth U.S. Court of Appeals. Arizona lawmakers are therefore confident that their bill will be upheld if its constitutionality is questioned.

The issue of squelching the free speech of Westboro Baptist Church picketers and other hatemongers is a fraught one, of course. The ACLU has gotten into hot water for defending Westboro in court over its rights to protest. It's despicable that the group would target the funeral of a 9-year-old, no question, but the erosion of free speech rights is a slippery slope. At least one person in Arizona recognized that the decision wasn't so cut-and-dry:

In the Senate debate, Sen. Ron Gould, R-Lake Havasu City, said he would vote for the funeral bill, but he was conflicted because "even idiots have a right to free speech."

AlterNet / By Lauren Kelley

Posted at January 12, 2011, 4:47am

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