Florida Takes on Anti-Gay Westboro Baptist Church, Approves Bill
In a unanimous vote last week, Florida’s House of Representatives passed Florida House Bill 15, called the Funeral Buffer Bill, which prohibits engaging in protest activities one hour before or after a service and prohibits protesting within 500 feet of a property line of a location of funeral or burial.
“The loss of a family member or friend is an extremely difficult time for loved ones,” state Senate Majority Leader Lizbeth Benacquisto said in a statement. “Unfortunately, across the country we have seen these solemn times repeatedly interrupted, often at funerals for our fallen heroes who have courageously served our country in the military.”
What Representative Benacquisto may be referring to are the heavily criticized protests of Westboro Baptist Church. North Carolina and a St. Louis suburb have already passed similar laws.
WBC is most notorious for the picketing of service member’s funerals and their “God Hates Fags” mantra. The church even has plans to picket the upcoming NCAA Final Four tournament in Atlanta, Georgia.
Florida Representative and bill sponsor Patrick Rooney, Jr. believes all families have the right to mourn their loved ones in peace and with respect.
“For those that are suffering the terrible loss of a loved one, unwarranted harassment some attempt only compounds their grief and escalates the potential for a physical altercation,” Rooney said in a statement.
The bill, which has yet to go before Florida Gov. Rick Scott, will penalize protestors with a first degree misdemeanor which can include up to one year in jail.
Even though the bill restricts the way people can protest, Rooney said he has made sure no one’s rights were violated.
“It is my belief that this bill will continue to allow those to express their freedom of speech, even speech I and many others may disagree with,” Rooney said in a statement.