Senate approves restrictions on funeral protests
SPRINGFIELD -- What started as a civics lesson may end in a requirement that protesters at funerals stay an extra 100 feet away from the site of a funeral, under a measure passed by the Illinois Senate on Monday.
House Bill 180 would require anyone picketing a funeral to be at least 300 feet away from the funeral site, instead of 200 feet.
“We need to protect those folks who are spending their last few minutes with a loved one,” said the House sponsor, Rep. Kay Hatcher, R-Yorkville.
Hatcher’s measure was suggested to her by a sociology class at Northern Illinois University.
“Illinois has the lowest yards and time restrictions for protesting,”said Gayle Deja-Schultz, 41, of Sugar Grove, who talked to Hatcher on behalf of the class.
Hatcher's original bill set a 1,000-foot limit. The less restrictive Senate version is not a significant improvement, Deja-Schultz said.
The proposal is opposed by the Illinois branch of the American Civil Liberties Union.
“The First Amendment protects the right to engage in speech in public places that is directed towards whatever audience the speaker chooses,” ACLU senior attorney Adam Schwartz said. “We think that this includes messages that are horrible, offensive messages.”
The House must either accept or reject the Senate’s changes before the bill lands on Gov. Pat Quinn’s desk.
In 2006, then-Lt. Gov. Quinn spearheaded the original measure to restrict protests outside of funerals after members of the anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church from Topeka, Kan. threatened to picket the funerals of several soldiers killed in the Iraq and Afghan conflicts.
Andy Brownfield can be reached at (217) 782-3095.