Congressman Jim Matheson is the lead Democrat on a bipartisan bill to protect military funerals from disruption by outside groups. The Sanctity of Eternal Rest for Veterans, or SERVE Act (HR 1591) has been introduced by New Hampshire Congressman Charles Bass.
“Families saying their final goodbyes to their fallen soldier should be able to conduct the service in peace and with dignity and respect. This legislation strikes a balance between the sanctity of a funeral service and the right to free speech,” said Matheson.
Matheson said the bill is a response to an 8 to 1 Supreme Court ruling that decided a grieving father’s pain over mocking protests at his Marine son’s funeral must yield to First Amendment protections for free speech. The father had sued protestors, after they picketed outside the Maryland church where the funeral was being held in 2006. The protestors drew counter-demonstrators as well as media coverage and a heavy police presence to maintain order. As a result, the family had to alter the route of the funeral procession.
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. A companion bill has been introduced in the Senate by Maine Senator Olympia Snowe.
Matheson said the military support groups and organizations backing 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 and Veterans of Foreign Wars.