Chesterton Tribune

 

Commissioners give preliminary approval to funeral protest ban

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By JEFF SCHULTZ

The Porter County Board of Commissioners took a major step Tuesday in protecting the privacy of grievers as they lay their loved ones to rest at local funerals.

The board voted 3-0 on first reading of an ordinance drafted similarly to a law in Manchester, Mo., banning funeral protests that was upheld by the U.S. Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals.

The court ruled the Manchester law is not in violation of a citizen’s First Amendment right of speech because the ordinance is narrowly drafted giving legitimate time, place and manner where others can express their views, County Attorney Betty Knight had told the Tribune.

The text of the ordnance:

(a) Every citizen may freely speak, write and publish the person’s sentiments on all subjects, being responsible for the abuse of the right, but no person shall picket or engage in other protest activities, nor shall any association or corporation cause picketing or other protest activities to occur within three hundred (300) feet of any residence, cemetery, funeral home, church, synagogue, or other establishment during or within one (1) hour before or one (1) hour after the conducting of any actual funeral or burial service at that place.

(b) As used in this Section, “other protest activities” means any action that is disruptive or undertaken to disrupt or disturb a funeral or burial service.

(c) As used in this Section, “funeral” and “burial service” mean the ceremonies and memorial services held in conjunction with the burial or cremation of the dead, but this Section does not apply to processions while they are in transit beyond any three hundred (300) foot zone that is established under Subsection (A) above.

A violation of this ordinance can result in a fine of no more than $1,000.00 and/or up to three (3) months imprisonment. Three violations can result in a mandatory fine of at least $500.00 and imprisonment of at least five (5) days.

Public hearing

No remonstration was lodged against the ban when County Commissioner President John Evans, R-North, opened the public hearing.

Kathy Elkins of Morgan Twp. was the only speaker expressing her support in just a single remark.

“I just want to thank you for doing this,” Elkins said, mentioning she had two sons in the military.

Since the Manchester law ruling, various local governments throughout the country have adopted their own ordinances preserving the dignity of funerals in response to protests made by members of the Westboro Baptist Church across the country at soldier’s funerals.

The Town of Porter last week voted 4-0 to adopt their own ordinance on a final reading. A similar ban was passed by the Hebron Town Council recently.

A final reading of the county’s ordinance will be held at the Commissioners’ next meeting on April 16 with the public hearing closed. A second reading is required, Evans said, because the ordinance involves fees.

 

 

 

4/3/2013