- (Photo: Carroll County Times / Dylan Slagle, File)
An Illinois governor has signed a law that will mean members of fundamentalist group Westboro Baptist Church, known for its protests of military funerals, will have to stay away further from services.
Gov. Pat Quinn’s decree, signed Sunday at the Executive Mansion, pushes funeral protesters an additional 100 feet to 300 feet away, and bans them from the area entirely 30 minutes before and after funeral services.
The bill expands Quinn’s “Let Them Rest In Peace Act,” proposed in 2005, which former Gov. Rod Blagojevich signed in 2006.
The law applies to all funerals, not just military, and Quinn said, “Every family has a fundamental right to conduct a funeral with reverence and dignity.”
The “Let Them Rest In Peace Act” targets groups such as Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church, whose displays include signs reading “Thank God for Dead Soldiers.”
Westboro has unsurprisingly labeled the new law as unconstitutional.
Westboro refuses to allay their protests of homosexuality during funerals, and one member spoke to the Chicago Sun Times saying, “They can make (the ban distance) 100 miles, and it changes exactly nothing.”
Margie Phelps, a lawyer and daughter of Westboro's pastor, continued, “You all are delusional if you think you’re going to win this one.”
The Supreme Court ruled earlier this year that Westboro’s protests are constitutionally protected under free speech in March, but Ohio federal courts ruled that requiring protesters to stay 300 feet away is constitutional. The Associated Press reports that Westboro leaders plan to challenge the legislation in court this year.
Quinn, who said he has been at funerals protested by Westboro church members, said that the new law “ensures that the families of those who have given their lives for our country can grieve without harassment,” the Chicago Sun Times reported.
“It is our duty to honor their sacrifice by ensuring they are remembered with respect and solemnity.”
Dave Powell, the father of a fallen soldier, told the Illinois State Journal that he was glad Quinn signed the act. He reported that no one protested during his son’s funeral, but that a possible rally was rumored on the Westboro Baptist Church website.
“I don’t understand the motive,” Powell told the Journal. “No Christian would do that to another Christian.”
Powell attended the signing of the act on Sunday.