State Senator Hugh T. Farley (R, C, I - Schenectady) announced that he and his colleagues in the New York State Senate gave final legislative approval on June 16th to two measures that offer additional buffers and restrictions for protests or demonstrations seeking to disrupt military funerals, burials or memorial services. The bills balance the constitutional right of free speech with the ability of families to respectfully mourn the individuals who gave their lives in service to our country.
A recent U.S. Supreme Court decision recognized that persons who protest at funerals of military personnel have constitutional rights, but also that states have a compelling interest in protecting the family and friends of deceased military personnel while they are mourning at such events. This prompted Senator Zeldin to propose the Specialist Thomas J. Wilwerth Military Dignity Act this past March. Specialist Wilwerth was an Iraq War Veteran who lost his life in combat in 2006.
A companion bill designed to ensure that military families already reeling from grief are not faced with insults and protests was introduced, and both bills were passed by the Senate on March 14, 2011. The bills were amended and passed the Assembly on June 6, 2011.
S.3901A requires the development and implementation of a permit process for demonstrations at veteran and veteran family member funerals, and authorizes the imposition of fines for failure to comply with the permit provisions.
S.5605 triples the buffer zone distance for protests around a religious service, funeral, burial or memorial service from 100 feet to 300 feet.
The bills will be sent to the Governor.