A bill making it illegal to protest and disturb military funerals in the Sunshine State unanimously passed the Senate Criminal Justice Committee today and now heads to the Senate floor. Senate Bill 632 would make it a misdemeanor to picket or engage in other protest activities within 500 feet of a funeral, burial or memorial service of a veteran, emergency response worker, elected official or minor. The bill’s sponsor, Senator Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Ft. Myers, says the legislation strikes a balance between the right to protest and the right to grieve.
“Citizens should be able to exercise their First Amendment right,” said Benacquisto. “But free speech does not have to come at the expense of families whose loved ones gave the ultimate sacrifice for our country. With this bill, we hope to strike a meaningful balance.”
A similar bill is filed in the House by Representative Pat Rooney, R-Palm Beach Gardens. His HB 31 was drafted in response to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that stated anti-gay protestors in Maryland exercised their right to free speech at the 2006 funeral of Marine Cpl. Matthew Snyder who was killed in Iraq. According to the judge, protestors were not in violation of the state’s 100-foot buffer zone for military funerals. While Florida law currently makes it a misdemeanor to disturb military funerals, Benacquisto’s newly filed bill proposes the buffer zone.
“Such a somber and private moment for families should not be tarnished by a political presence,” added Benacquisto. “Those who served courageously deserve better.”