Legislation filed to protect Sooner military funerals

Oklahoma City- State Rep. Paul Wesselhöft announced on Oct. 4, that he is filing legislation to prevent protests at soldiers' funerals, a bill he calls the “Oklahoma Funeral Protection Act”.

After an Oklahoma soldier's funeral was picketed by a radical group from out of state, Wesselhöft, R-Moore, believes it is time to take action.

“For any group, church or organization to picket or protest at anyone's funeral, and especially the funerals of  United States service members who give their blood and lives for their country in Iraq and Afghanistan, is unacceptable,” said Wesselhöft, a retired U.S. Army Chaplain who has conducted many military funerals. “For such a group to demonstrate, yell hate speech and judge people's souls in the midst of the deceased's distraught and grieving family, while they are surviving their most vulnerable state, is revolting, vulgar and vomitous; it is heartbreaking, and not ever right. Never.”

On Saturday, July 23, 2005 , the community of Newkirk honored Army Specialist Jared D. Hartley, who was killed on duty in Iraq .  As the town gathered to mourn, 10 people from the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka , Ks. waved protest signs and yelled insensitive comments during the funeral.

This organization targets military funerals around the nation. On their website, www.godhatesfags.com, is a list of upcoming funerals they plan to protest. The group targets soldiers' funerals claiming that the soldiers have fought for a nation that promotes homosexuality.  This group is not affiliated with traditional Baptist churches.

Based on this information, Wesselhöft, a member of the House Veterans and Military Affairs Committee, said it is time to take action. Therefore, he is making the “Oklahoma Funeral Protection Act” an emergency measure, which means if his bill passes and the Governor signs it, the legislation immediately becomes law.

Under Wesselhöft's bill, it will be unlawful for anyone to engage in picketing, or any other form of protest or demonstration at all funerals within 500 feet of any home, funeral home, church, synagogue, temple, mosque, cemetery or mortuary. The bill also bars protests within two hours prior to, during, and two hours after the conclusion of the funeral.

Any person convicted under the proposed law would face misdemeanor charges that will result in not less than 30 days imprisonment in a county jail and a fine of up to $1,000 or both.

A similar bill has been filed in the Oklahoma Senate.

“I am not regulating content of speech.  Citizens are afforded various places at numerous times to picket, protest, and fully exercise their First Amendment rights-precious rights that I have defended as a combat veteran,” Wesselhöft said, “but a funeral is not such a place or time. Grieving families have rights, too.”

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