Editor's note: Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter signed the bill into law on March 21. It was to go into effect on July 1.
BOISE, Idaho — When the first female soldier from Idaho died in Iraq in June
2005, her funeral was accompanied by more than just mourners: A Kansas-based
anti-homosexual preacher showed up with signs reading "God Loves Sept. 11."
Yesterday, Idaho senators unanimously passed a measure aimed at halting such
protests outside funerals.
It cleared the House 70-0 in February.
If it's signed by Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter, the bill would make it a
misdemeanor to "maliciously and willfully (disturb) the dignity or reverential
nature of any funeral, memorial service, funeral procession, burial ceremony or
viewing of a deceased person."
More than 30 states have considered or passed similar measures in an effort
to limit protests by followers of preacher Fred Phelps of Topeka, Kan. He says
he believes God is letting U.S. soldiers die in Iraq as a way to punish America
for its tolerance of homosexuals.
"It's a direct intrusion on the rights of family members trying to mourn,"
said state Sen. Mike Jorgenson, R-Hayden Lake. "When we lose respect for the
dead, we lose respect for ourselves."
Jorgenson said the state attorney general's office had attested to the
measure's constitutionality. But state Sen. Kate Kelly, D-Boise, said that the
measure could eventually be challenged in the courts.
While Kelly voted for it, she said, "There are potential constitutional
issues associated with this bill in terms of the First Amendment and the right
to freedom of speech."
Shirley Roper-Phelps, Fred Phelps' daughter and spokeswoman for the
Kansas-based Westboro Baptist church, has predicted similar laws in other states
would be struck down by the courts.
Cpl. Carrie French, 19, of Caldwell, died June 5, 2005, when a roadside bomb
hit her fuel truck in the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk. Three people from
Phelps' church stood with signs across the street from the funeral in Caldwell,
located about 20 miles west of Boise.