Florida lawmakers are poised to vote on a bill that would ban protests at all funerals, not just military ones.
The measure would prohibit picketing and other ”protest activities” that aim to “interrupt or disturb” a funeral or burial. To comply, protesters would need to keep a distance of at least 500 feet. The ban would apply one hour before and after a procession. Violators could face up to a year in prison.
The bill has been cleared for a vote on the floor in both houses, The Wall Street Journal reports.
Congress approved a protest ban last year, but the measure applied only to military funerals.
Such statutes are bound to run into free speech challenges. The U.S. Supreme Court in 2011 upheld the First Amendment rights of a fundamentalist baptist church in Topeka, Kansas, to picket at a marine’s funeral and hold signs reading, “Thank God for Dead Soldiers.”
Protesters can face up to a year in jail and $1,000 fine for violating Florida’s existing law. That penalty would remain unchanged under the new legislation.
The Senate Criminal Justice Committee unanimously approved that chamber’s version (SB 118) on Tuesday. A similar House bill (HB 15) earlier cleared all committees there. Both now are ready for floor votes after the legislative session begins March 5.
The Miami Herald reports the legislation covers prohibited activities within 500 feet of the property line of any home, cemetery, funeral home, church or other location during, or within an hour before and an hour after, a funeral, burial or memorial service.
Sen. Chris Smith, D-Ft. Lauderdale, said it’s a good bill, but he was worried that it doesn’t go far enough. He said he someone might avoid arrest by simply sitting down and holding a protest sign.