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Funeral protests and the freedom of speech

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court made a ruling that prohibiting the Westboro Baptist Church from protesting at funerals is against the first amendment right to “freedom of speech”.

This ruling came as a disappointment to many that feel the organization’s actions are a form of hate-speech that should not be considered protected under the first amendment right. However, the ruling is very much in line with many earlier court decisions that said the First Amendment exists to protect debate on free expression, no matter how distasteful.

The Westboro Baptist Church was pleased with the ruling and since has vowed to quadruple the number of protests at military funerals around the country. Members of this organization have held signs at hundreds of funerals with messages such as “Thank God for dead soldiers” and “God Hates the USA/Thank God for 9/11”.

Although the ruling will not prohibit these funeral protests, the state of NH, as well as 43 other states, has restrictions on such actions. NH State law RSA 644:2-b states that it shall be unlawful for any person to engage in picketing or other protest activities at any location at which a funeral is held, within one hour prior to the commencement, until one hour following the cessation of any funeral. It also restricts any protesting within 150 feet of the route to or from the cemetery and disturbance of the peace or good order during a funeral, memorial service or ceremony.

Experts in New Hampshire state that the NH law will not be affected by the Supreme Court ruling. In addition, the Patriot Guard Riders, a group that has been formed to protect families from protests, will continue to do so when invited from the family.

We are very interested in hearing your opinion on this ruling and how you think it may affect funerals in NH.

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