Chicago At least five Midwestern states are considering legislation to ban protests at funerals in response to demonstrations by the Rev. Fred Phelps and members of his Topeka, Kan.-based Westboro Baptist Church, who have been protesting at funerals of Iraq war casualties because they say the deaths are God's punishment for U.S. tolerance toward gays.
Though the soldiers were not gay, the protesters say the deaths, as well as Hurricane Katrina, recent mining disasters and other tragedies are God's signs of displeasure. They also protested at the memorial service for the 12 West Virginia miners who died in the Sago Mine.
"The families weren't able to bury their loved ones in peace," said Kansas state Sen. Jean Schodorf, who has proposed legislation. "We felt pretty strongly that we needed to do something about it."
Kansas' proposed bill would keep protesters 300 feet away from any funeral or memorial service and ban demonstrations within one hour before or two hours after a service.
Legislators in Illinois, Indiana, Missouri and Oklahoma are looking at similar bills. Proposed legislation in Indiana would keep protesters 500 feet from funerals, and make a violation a felony punishable by a three-year prison term and a $10,000 fine.
Shirley Phelps-Roper, Phelps' daughter and an attorney for the church, said if legislation passes, the group will challenge it in court.
A motorcycle group called the Patriot Guard, made up mostly of veterans, has started attending funerals to act as a buffer between the protesters and family members.