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Friday, March 03, 2006

Legislative Reaction to Fred Phelps

Paul Koering (R, Fort Ripley) has introduced a bill to ban protests at military funerals.

Koering said in a phone interview Monday from St. Paul that Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who attended Kemple's funeral, has expressed support for this type of legislation. Koering will introduce the bill along with Sen. Geoff Michel, R-Edina, and Sen. David Hann, R-Eden Prairie.

"I have always been and always will be supportive of our soldiers who put their lives on the line every day to protect the freedoms that we have," said Koering. "For somebody to have that much disrespect for the family of a fallen soldier to be right at their church or where they're having the funeral is just too much for me to take. I just feel it's important to have this legislation to keep these people away and let the families mourn in peace."

Under the proposed law, protesters would be prohibited from disrupting a funeral service from within 1,000 feet of the facility, obstructing any vehicle connected to the funeral or memorial service or intentionally blocking access to the funeral facility. The bill also applies to the home or homes of the deceased family or family members as well. The proposed law suggests a first time violation would be a gross misdemeanor and additional offenses would be a felony-level offense.

Koering said he has learned that the followers of Fred Phelps, the founder of the Westboro Baptist Church and who also is widely known for picketing the funerals of AIDS victims and the funeral of Matthew Shepherd, the Wyoming college student killed in 1998 by two men he met in a bar, have also protested at funerals of government employees. Koering said the proposed law may be expanded to include the funerals of firefighters, police officers and other public employees.

Koering said at Monday's news conference that if Phelps and his followers hate America so much as their Web site,, states, that he will personally buy their one-way tickets out of this country if they promise to never come back.

When asked if he is concerned that he, as a Republican senator who came out last year as a gay man, could become a target for this hate group, Koering didn't hesitate.

"Bring it on," Koering said. "Bring it on. Maybe that'll take the focus off of them going to some of these soldiers' funerals."

I personally find the Phelps klan demonstrations repugnant, but I think there are first amendment problems with these sorts of laws.