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Oregon Debates New Funeral-Protest Bill

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FUNERAL PROTEST BILL
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By Michelle Cole
Religion News Service

SALEM, Ore. -- A day after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the right of an anti-gay church to picket funerals, Oregon legislators discussed a bill that would put distance between protesters and mourners.

On Wednesday (March 2), the Supreme Court ruled that the Constitution protects the right of Westboro Baptist Church to protest funerals and declare their stance on matters of public debate, such as society's tolerance of homosexuality.

The Oregon bill proposes restrictions around funerals, burials and memorial services. Protesters engaging in "activities that are disruptive" would be required to stay at least 300 feet away for an hour before and after the funeral.

Rep. Patrick Sheehan, a Republican who sponsored the bill, said he is aware of the need to balance mourners' privacy with protesters' free speech rights.

"We'll allow them free speech but they don't have to have that in the face of people who are grieving," he said on Thursday (March 3).

The American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon said the Oregon bill would be unconstitutional on several fronts.

The Oregon Supreme Court has interpreted Oregon's Constitution to give even more protections than the First Amendment, said Andrea Meyer, ACLU's legislative director.

"Free speech and the right to protest peacefully extend to all Americans," she said, "even if their messages are unpopular, distasteful and even hateful."

The committee took no action on the bill Thursday but Sheehan said he's confident he has the votes to move it to the floor.

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