Graveside protest ban signed into law

2 June 2006

The U.S. House of Representatives last week passed H.R. 5037, as amended, the Respect for America's Fallen Heroes Act. Congressman Steve Buyer (R-Indiana), Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs, co-authored this legislation with Congressmen Mike Rogers (R-Michigan), Jeff Miller (R-Florida) and Silvestre Reyes (D-Texas).

President Bush signed the bill into law on Memorial Day.

“Vile, offensive and organized protests have taken place around this country at funerals of fallen service members,” Buyer said. “This legislation will allow families to grieve for the loss of a loved one in peace. We cannot allow the despicable acts of a few to define the character of America.”

H.R. 5037, as amended, reflects a compromise agreement with the Senate that would prohibit demonstrations taking place within 150 feet of a road, pathway, or other route of ingress or egress from national cemeteries and Arlington National Cemetery, 60 minutes before and 60 minutes after a funeral. The bill would not interfere with existing abilities of the Secretary of Veterans Affairs or the Secretary of the Army to regulate other conduct that is not specifically referenced in this legislation on property under their respective jurisdiction.

“Families deserve the time to bury their American heroes with dignity and in peace,” Rogers said. “It saddens me that such a law is necessary, but it is crucial that America put its arms around these grieving families and say ‘we support you and thank you for the sacrifice your loved one has made for our nation' and that we will do what it takes to protect your right to mourn in peace and with dignity.”

Penalties associated with violations of this legislation are fair and proportionate. A violation would be a Class A misdemeanor under title 18, United States Code, and result in fines of $100,000, imprisonment of not more than one year, or both. The penalty balances proportionality with the need for deterrence that has been demonstrated in outrageous and intolerable disruptions.

“As a Vietnam combat veteran, and member of the House Veterans' Affairs and House Armed Services Committees, I want to assure the families of our deceased service members that this Congress will ensure our nation's heroes are given the dignified burial they deserve,” Reyes said.

“With passage in both the House and Senate, it is my hope that the President can sign this bill into law by Memorial Day. Our soldiers deserve nothing less,” Buyer said.

The bill includes a sense of Congress that states should enact legislation to restrict demonstrations near any military funerals. As of now six states have enacted into law legislation either banning or restricting demonstrations at funerals.

“I thank my colleagues in the House and Senate for supporting this legislation to preserve the sanctity of the patriot's funeral in national cemeteries,” Buyer said. “This will help ensure that the only sound echoing over the grieving family is the bugler's notes calling us all to remember a life well lived and a nation well served.”

Background: Over the past several months, organized protests have taken place around the country at the funerals of servicemen and women who have lost their lives in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. These demonstrators harass family members and friends with chants and signs that read, “Thank God for dead soldiers,” “God hates you,” and “Thank God for IEDs.” Regardless of one's position on the Global War on Terror, the committee believes that family members and friends should be protected during military funerals at national cemeteries and Arlington National Cemetery, and that veterans should receive the respect they earned as a result of their service in the armed forces.

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