U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand today joined with a bipartisan coalition of Senators to announce the introduction of a bill to protect military funerals from disruption by outside groups. The bipartisan legislation would amend existing federal laws to help prevent disruptions at military funerals. The Sanctity of Eternal Rest for Veterans, or "SERVE" Act (S.815), defines the time and place for protests at funerals, and it provides clear remedies and increased penalties when conduct at military funeral services is not protected by the First Amendment. Senator Olympia J. Snowe (R-ME) introduced the measure with Senators Ben Cardin (D-MD), Dan Coats (R-IN), Kent Conrad (D-ND), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), John Hoeven (R-ND), Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), Mike Johanns (R-NE), Mark Kirk (R-IL), Mark Pryor (D-AR), Harry Reid (D-NV), Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), Marco Rubio (R-FL), and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH).
"Our men and women in uniform bravely put everything on the line for our country. It is our duty to provide service members and their families with the support they need while deployed overseas and after they have returned home," said Senator Gillibrand, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. "This common sense legislation will ensure our heroes are buried with the honor and dignity they deserve."
Specifically, the SERVE Act would increase the quiet time before and after military funeral services from 60 minutes to 120 minutes; increase from 150 feet to 300 feet the buffer around a military funeral service and increase from 300 feet to 500 feet the buffer around access routes to a funeral service area; and increase civil penalties on violators.
The military support groups and organizations supporting the SERVE Act include the Gold Star Wives of America, the Enlisted Association of the National Guard of the United States, the Marine Corps League, the Military Officers Association of America, the Military Order of the Purple Heart, the Non Commissioned Officers Association, and Veterans of Foreign Wars.
Gold Star Wives of America, Inc: "Several of our members have been forced to endure these unseemly, irreverent protests at the funerals of their beloved fallen spouse. Losing a beloved husband or wife is traumatic enough without also having to endure these protestors and their nasty signs and obnoxious behavior. We fully support the proposed Sanctity of Eternal Rest for Veterans Act and we are grateful that you have proposed this legislation."
Military Order of the Purple Heart: "The Military Order of the Purple Heart totally agrees with Senator Snowe that the families of our military should only have to deal with the burial of their fallen loved one and not with protestors who would intrude upon this most solemn occasion."
Non Commissioned Officers Association: "The disruption and protest rallies targeting military funerals dishonors the military service of those whose uniformed service has guaranteed the freedoms enjoyed by all citizens. The proposed legislation further correctly asserts that such demonstrations negatively impact the recruitment of people by the Armed Forces and militia employed in service to the United States. The Non Commissioned Officers Association strongly supports your legislation that will ensure the privacy and dignity of military funerals."
Veterans of Foreign Wars: " the VFW fully supports legislative and community efforts to ensure the right to free speech does not trump a family's right to mourn in private. Those who would use the First Amendment as both a shield and a sword need to have limits on such abuse. Thank you, on behalf of all 2.1 million members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States and our Auxiliaries, for stepping forward and leading the charge."
BACKGROUND: The recent U.S. Supreme Court decision in Snyder v Phelps involving the Snyder family and the Westboro Baptist Church underscored the need for more definitive language in federal law guiding when and where disruptions at military funerals can take place, while still respecting the ability of a family to lay a lost loved one to rest.