But don’t worry, Blackwell’s wrong too…

An article over at RABid caught my eye a couple of minutes ago about a judicial challenge to John Boccieri’s (D-New Middletown) new law barring protests at military funerals. The Beacon-Journal also wrote a McNews worthy article in their morning edition. The sudden spike in interest regarding the new state law, which creates a 300 foot buffer zone around funerals proceedings, is due to a recent court challenge as to the constitutionality of the law. Additionally, both Blackwell and Strickland have thrown fuel on the fire by publicly condemning the challenge and calling on the judiciary to uphold the law (nothing like a little seperation of powers there, eh boys?).

Rep. Boccieri introduced HB 484 earlier this year in response to the repeated actions of the Rev. Fred Phelps of the Westboro Baptist Church. Maybe you’re familiar with Mr. Phelps, he runs the website www.godhatesfags.com (coincidentally, 11 of Mr. Phelps’ 13 children are lawyers).The Reverend has pursued an agenda protesting military funerals across America over the past year. The typical protests consists of Phelps and supporters standing outside the gate of the funeral, shouting at the mourners, while holding signs stating that their loved one is burning in the fires of hell (or something to that effect) because America supports homosexuals. Yeah, he’s a top-notch guy.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I believe that in some instances limitations on public protests are needed, especially to protect the interests and rights of other parties (in this case, the mourners). Initially I was a big supporter of HB 484, however, lately I’ve noticed some real problems with the legislation…problems that will create unforseeable circumstances.

HB 484 is written pretty carelessly, and leaves some real questions unanswered. I’m not going to cut and paste the entire bill, but it can be accessed here (It’s short, like a paragraph long).

The most basic problems with the bill are that:

1. It bans “picketing or protesting” outside funerals. This picketing or protesting doesn’t have to be limited to a protest of the military funeral, it can be any protest at all. So the bill creates this 300 foot buffer zone where no protesting can occur. That’s fine, right? Well, what about cemetaries in the heart of cities? For the righties, if a cemetary were located within 300 feet of an abortion clinic or where a controversial speaker was presenting, they would effectively be barred from protest. For the lefties, what if a cemetary were located near a labor plant…picket lines could be compromised.

2. The law bans protesting “one hour before a funeral and one hour after”. Imagine what this could create at busy cemetaries. Say there’s a funeral at 10am, 1pm, and 3pm. The only time during the work day a protest could occur even remotely close to the cemetary would be from 11-noon because of the restrictions.

3. The language in the bill potentially creates a ban on protests along the funeral procession route. Think back to my first example. If the procession drove by Pre-term in Shaker heights, or by AK-Steel in Middletown, all civic protests would be legally shut down.

Strickland and Blackwell are both tooting their horns right now, calling on the judiciary to uphold this bill. I think they’re wrong (you should comment and tell me why I’m wrong). More than anything, I think this is a great example of an instance where both DEMS and GOOPERS are picking up some quick political points.

We need laws like Boccieri’s. However, legislators need to be careful when they craft legislation limiting our rights (especially when they limit our self-expression). In this case, it’s just sloppy legislation. Boccierri should go back to the drawing board and craft something that shuts Phelps and his cronies down in a more sensible manner.

…my two cents.

 
  • Jerid

    By the way. I’m Jerid. I’ll be posting here sporadically. For those of you that don’t know me, for the past 6 months I worked for the most infamous congressional candidate in the state of Ohio (she really is a decent woman). I left that campaign to start law school about 2 weeks before it imploded. Before that I was blogging at http://www.livefromdayton.org.

    Questions comments or concerns? Just want to shoot the bull? Send me an email at jerid.kurtz@gmail.com

    All the best.

  • John Kohlstrand

    I work with Rep. Boccieri and other Democrats in the legislature, and I just wanted to offer a little more background on this.

    Despite what the ACLU is saying, our position is that this legislation would *only* apply to a protest that specifically targets a funeral — not to any protest that happens to fall within 300 feet of a funeral home or procession or burial.

    Take a close look at this part of H.B. 484:

    … As used in this section, “other protest activities” means any action that is disruptive or undertaken to disrupt or disturb a funeral or burial service or a funeral procession…

    As Rep. Tim DeGeeter put it in his amicus:

    “The plain language of the statute clearly shows that the prohibitions only go to the speech that is directed at the funeral or burial service. Plaintiff is incorrect in asserting that a protest aimed at another entity within 300 feet of a funeral would be stifled.”

    Obviously, I don’t agree at all that this is “sloppy legislation.”

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