WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) has joined with U.S. Senator Olympia Snowe (R-ME) in introducing a bipartisan bill to amend existing federal funeral protest laws to help prevent disruptions at military funerals. The Sanctity of Eternal Rest for Veterans, or “SERVE” Act, S. 815, would strictly define the time and place for protests at funerals, providing greater protection for military families.
The bill is in response to a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision involving the family of Marine Lance Corporal Matthew A. Snyder of Finksburg, MD. The Supreme Court ruled that the First Amendment protected the right of members of the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, KS to conduct hate-filled protest at military funerals, provided they follow the protest guidelines established by local officials. . The Court’s decision did not address existing federal laws on the books regulating protests at military funerals.
In 2010, Senator Cardin joined an amicus curiae brief to the Supreme Court filed in support of Marine Lance Corporal Matthew A. Snyder’s family. Matthew, who lived in Finksburg, MD, was killed in Iraq in 2006, and his funeral was disrupted by members of a Kansas church who believe the death of American soldiers is God’s punishment for tolerance of homosexuality.
“This legislation will protect the families of our fallen soldiers and help preserve the dignity of military funerals from those who wish to disrupt and cause pain and suffering,” said Senator Cardin. “I believe this bill complies with the Supreme Court decision and provides the very necessary protections for our fallen heroes and their families so they can mourn in peace.”
“Those who fight and die in the service of our country deserve our highest respect. Their families have earned the right to bury their loved ones in peace. The SERVE Act strikes a balance between the sanctity of a funeral service and the right to free speech,” said Senator Snowe.
Specifically, the SERVE Act would increase the quiet time before and after military funeral services throughout the country from 60 minutes to 120 minutes; increase from 150 feet to 300 feet the buffer around a military funeral service and increase from 300 feet to 500 feet the buffer around access routes to a funeral service area; and increase civil penalties on violators. The measure also enhances national security by protecting military recruitment and retention.
The organizations supporting the legislation include: The Enlisted Association of the National Guard of the United States, the Military Order of the Purple Heart, the Non Commissioned Officers Association and Veterans of Foreign Wars. Other co-sponsors of the Senate bill include: Senators Dan Coats (R-IN), Kent Conrad (D-ND), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), John Hoeven (R-ND), Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), Mike Johanns (R-NE), Mark Pryor (D-AR), Harry Reid (D-NV), Marco Rubio (R-FL), and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH).