President Obama signed the Honoring America’s Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act of 2012. This bill not only deals with housing and health care of veterans, but it also places restrictions on protestors at military funerals, which Huffington Post was quick to notice.
Before Obama signed the bill, he said, “We have a moral sacred duty to our men and women in uniform. The graves of our veterans are hallowed grounds.”
According to Huffington Post the act has strong implications for Westboro Baptist Church, in Kansas, which the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League lists as a hate group. Westboro Baptist Church has a long history of protesting fallen soldiers with picket signs that say, “God loves dead soldiers”, “Thank God for dead soldiers”, “God blew up the troops”, and “AIDS cures fags”, which many people find offensive.
Under this new legislation, protest must be at least 300 feet away and prohibited two hours before and after the funeral. Any violation of these restrictions could result in a $50,000 fine for statutory damages and up to two years in prison.
"Protests that encroach upon the funerals and burials of our fallen soldiers are repugnant and inappropriate — and they undermine the respect military families and loved ones undeniably deserve," said a statement by retiring Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, who sponsored the provisions.
Snowe was grateful the usual partisan divide did not occur with this bill, but Westboro Baptist Church does not care though and defiantly stated that they will not change their plans for protesting the funerals of dead soldiers.
"That's really not going to change our plans at all," Westboro Baptist Church spokesman Steve Drain told CNN on Friday. "We're going to continue to do that. We're also going to continue to obey all laws."
At the time of the CNN interview, they planned to protest a military funeral in Lincoln, Nebraska on Saturday.
Fred Phelps believes that God is punishing the nation for homosexuality through various events, such as dead soldiers.
"The Lord has just granted us another round of preaching opportunity here," Drain said, accusing Congress of enabling homosexuality with its attempt to "keep Bible preaching away from funerals."
Funerals are one of the few events where "people will take a really serious look at really moral matters of heaven and hell," Drain said. The purpose of the church's protests was to influence the people attending the funerals, he added.
"If you flip off God, if you disobey the standards of God, you will incur God's wrath," he said. "What we're trying to do is get people to wake up and smell the coffee."
Westboro may challenge the new restriction and they are keeping their options open to that possibility.
"We're keeping our options open," he said. "Any law that unnecessarily restricts our freedom of religious expression is always going to be open to challenge."
He added: "That's all we care about here. We've got to preach."
Members of Westboro Baptist Church believe that soldiers need to die because they fight for a country that tolerates homosexuality. Drain insisted that no one can preach the Bible without preaching about “the hatred of God and believes that the fight for freedom of expression, waged by Westboro, benefits everyone.
Meanwhile, the Phelps post defiantly on Twitter, even noting that the new regulation apply to the “human walls” people make to keep Westboro Baptist Church members away from the soldier’s mourning family and friends.
Fred Phelps Jr. tweeted what he saw as the silver lining. He assumes the measure would ban the "human walls" that have sprouted up as counter-protests in places like Texas and Missouri. He also said that lawsuits would be inevitable:
Rebekah Phelps-Roper tweeted that she believes that the “walls” are the targeted audience and not them.
More of the Phelps’ twitter posts are on Huffington Post, who reported that the church often uses the social media for quick responses to events and often use offensive language when they do. They also use Twitter to report protest events.