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Greene lawmakers ban protests at funerals

May 19, 2011 11:45 am
Ariel Zangla in The Daily Freeman reports that Greene County lawmakers passed Local Law #2 of 2011 on Wed. May 18. The second piece of legislation the governing body has produced in five months bans free speech before and after funerals in Greene County. Wednesday night the Greene County Legislature unanimously made it illegal for, "any person to engage in picketing within 750 feet of a cemetery, mortuary or church within one hour before or after a funeral," or during a funeral. No one in recent memory has protested a funeral in Greene County, but now violators receive a misdemeanor charge punishable by up to a $1,000 fine and or up to a year in the county jail. But that sentence would never happen, as the Supreme Court allows free speech in America under the First Amendment of the Constitution. Legislature Chairman Wayne Speenburgh, R-Coxsackie, told The Daily Freeman reporter that, "he understood the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent ruling that it is legal for groups such as the Westboro Baptist Church to exercise their right to freedom of speech by picketing at military funerals, but that he personally does not agree with that decision." On Tue. May 10 the Rensselaer County Legislature voted an identical measure, according to the Times-Union. The Times-Union reporter Dennis Yusko writes that:
"Westboro has never visited Rensselaer County. [Westboro leader Fred] Phelps and about 20 followers picketed the funeral of Army Sgt. Dominic Sacco of Albany in 2005 in Topeka, where Sacco's family lived during his deployment to Iraq. Sacco, 32, died in combat. The church had threatened to protest at least two military funerals in the Capital Region, but did not. In 2009, six Westboro members assembled outside Albany High School to condemn gays. Saratoga County, home to a national cemetery, and Albany County are also weighing new restrictions on funeral protests. Saratoga and Rensselaer county leaders got the idea from a sample local law distributed by the New York State Association of Counties.