Gov. Blagojevich signs 'Let Them Rest
in Peace Act,' allowing families to peacefully grieve fallen
New law makes
protesting within 200 feet of a funeral or memorial service a crime
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[MAY 18, 2006]
SPRINGFIELD -- Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich signed a
new law Wednesday to shield grieving military families from protests
during funerals and memorial services of fallen soldiers.
Senate Bill 1144, the "Let Them Rest in Peace Act," requires
protesters to stay at least 200 feet away from family and friends as
they mourn soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice.
The governor signed the law Wednesday after learning of a potential
protest at the upcoming funeral of an Effingham man who was killed
in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan earlier this month. Members of
the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas, who have staged
numerous disruptive and disrespectful protests during funerals for
fallen soldiers, told local authorities and state officials they
plan to picket Christopher Donaldson's services, which will take
place on Friday.
"It is unfathomable to me that anyone would stage
a protest at a funeral," Blagojevich said. "How can any decent
person think that disturbing a family grieving the death of any
loved one, let alone the death of one of our soldiers, is
acceptable? It's not, and the law I'm signing today makes that clear
by making protesting within 200 feet of a funeral a crime in
"No grieving military family should be subjected to vile epithets
and disruptive protests at the funeral service of their loved one
who has made the ultimate sacrifice for our country," said Lt. Gov.
Pat Quinn, who has attended every funeral of fallen Illinois
soldiers from the war on terror in Iraq and Afghanistan. "The Let
Them Rest in Peace Act protects the First Amendment religious rights
of families to bury their dead with reverence and dignity, and
everyone in the Land of Lincoln believes in this fundamental
principle of human decency."
The Let Them Rest in Peace Act, a Quinn initiative sponsored by
Sen. Arthur "A.J." Wilhelmi, D-Crest Hill, and Rep. Brandon Phelps,
D-Harrisburg, was created in response to a series of disruptions at
funeral services for Illinois military personnel in the past year
and applies to all funerals and memorial services in Illinois.
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The new law protects grieving family members and friends by putting
a 200-foot privacy zone between the funeral site and protestors who
sing loudly, play music, chant, whistle, yell or make any other type
of disturbing noise. Senate Bill 1144 also prohibits protesters from
displaying any visual images that convey fighting words or threats
against any other person, and makes it illegal to knowingly obstruct
a person's entry or exit from a funeral site. Disruptive and
inflammatory protests will be prohibited 30 minutes before a
funeral, during a funeral and 30 minutes after the funeral within
that 200-foot privacy zone.
"It is unfortunate that we have to
pass legislation like this, but it is so important so families can
grieve their loved ones in peace, without the interference of
disrespectful protesters," said Phelps. "We all value our right to
free speech. But there are appropriate times and places to protest,
and a funeral is not one of them. This legislation will finally help
ensure that recent disruptive protests during the funerals of some
fallen soldiers won't happen to other families in Illinois."
"It is our intent with this legislation to protect the rights of
families to grieve peacefully for their loved one who has been
killed fighting to protect our freedom," Wilhelmi said. "I'm happy
to have worked with Lieutenant Governor Pat Quinn on this important
A first-time violation of the act is a Class C misdemeanor,
punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a $1,500 fine, and a Class 4
felony for a second or subsequent offense, which is punishable by
one to three years in state prison and a fine of up to $25,000.
The new law is effective immediately.
[News release from the governor's