Arizona legislators quickly approved emergency legislation Tuesday to head off picketing by Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan. The church planned to protest near the funeral service for a 9-year-old girl who was killed in the Tucson shootings. Unanimous votes by the House and Senate sent the bill to Gov. Jan Brewer for her expected signature. It would take effect immediately.
The new law (once signed by Gov. Brewer) makes it illegal to protest within 300 feet of any home, cemetery, funeral home, or house of worship while a funeral ceremony or burial takes place, according to the Arizona Daily Star. The law would also prevent protests shortly before the funeral and immediately after. It is largely aimed at the planned protests by the controversial Westboro Baptist Church.
The legislation is anticipated to be passed before the first funeral of the Arizona shooting victims, Christina Taylor-Green, takes place, ABC News reports. The Westboro Baptist Church has announced plans to picket the funeral. They claim that "God sent the shooter to deal with idolatrous America." They contend that the Arizona shooting victims were killed because God is punishing America for allowing abortions. Volunteers in the form of angels plan to wear large wings to shield mourners.
Arizona legislators assert that this piece of legislation will pass constitutional muster. Several states have passed bans on similar political protests at funerals, specifically, funerals for the military, according to NPR. The proposed law is modeled after an Ohio law that was upheld as constitutional by the 6th Circuit. State senator Kyrsten Sinema, D-Phoenix, told the Arizona Daily Star that the law would not bar protestors. She said: "It simply regulates the time and the place in which they can do so."
The law would not attempt to prevent the actual content of speech by the Westboro Baptist Church or any other groups. State and federal courts have typically struck down legislation that attempts to regulate speech itself.
This piece of legislation is the first time that both Republicans and Democrats in Arizona were able to work together. "This will probably be the first thing we've done in a long time with broad bipartisan support," said state Rep. Daniel Patterson, a Tucson Democrat. It brings hope to many residents that Arizona can heal from this tragic shooting and come together.
- Snyder v. Phelps: Testing the Free Speech Clause in the Westboro Baptist Funeral Picketing Case (FindLaw's Writ)
- Elizabeth Edwards' Funeral: Church to Protest (FindLaw's Law & Daily Life Blog)
- Supreme Court Will Hear Funeral Protest Case (FindLaw's Law & Daily Life Blog)