State legislation to limit protests at funerals of fallen soldie - 14 News, WFIE, Evansville, Henderson, Owensboro

State legislation to limit protests at funerals of fallen soldiers

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The Poplar Bluff community mourns the death of Staff Sgt. Eric Summers. The Poplar Bluff community mourns the death of Staff Sgt. Eric Summers.
POPLAR BLUFF, MO (KFVS) - Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon singed a law on Friday that prohibits protests within 300 feet of a funeral or burial site of a fallen soldier.

This new limit extends an hour before and after the funeral.

According to a news release, the restrictions were prompted by the protests at funerals of Missouri soldiers by members of the Westboro Baptist Church.

"This law continues our efforts to protect the rights of families grieving at a funeral to not experience hate-filled intrusions," Nixon said in the release.

Westboro Baptist Church has planned on protesting fallen soldier funerals in the Heartland, like the one for Staff Sgt. Eric Summers.

Captain David Sutton of the Poplar Bluff Police Department, said the department had set up a designated area across the street from their office for these protesters.

Sutton said at that time the community mourned deeply when Summers passed away, and the department expected conflict between the mourners and protesters.

Sutton said designating the area for protests is the best way to keep every one safe. Not only can the department honor the family's privacy, but also protect the protesters from harms way.

"We have to balance the first amendment rights with the rights of others. And a person with a designated area will have a place where they can come, and they can get their first amendment rights and they can get the word out, say whatever it is they wanted to say without stepping on the rights of another person," Sutton said.

Members of the community said this legislation will help protect the families of fallen soldiers even more.

"Well if they have to be anywhere at all to do what they perceive as their first amendment rights, I suppose having it somewhere completely separate from the family and friends of the funeral victims, then I suppose this place would be as fine as any," Angela Dollins said.

Poplar Bluff has been designating the area for protests for a while now.

Before last year, the department used it when President Bush was in town in 2004.

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