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Congress Enacts Anti-Funeral-Picketing Bill:

An AP story, as posted on the CNN site, reports:

Demonstrators would be barred from disrupting military funerals at national cemeteries under legislation approved by Congress and sent to the White House....

Under the Senate bill, approved without objection by the House with no recorded vote, the "Respect for America's Fallen Heroes Act" would bar protests within 300 feet of the entrance of a cemetery and within 150 feet of a road into the cemetery from 60 minutes before to 60 minutes after a funeral....

Here, however, are the relevant parts of the bill:
(a) Prohibition- No person may carry out--

(1) a demonstration on the property of a cemetery under the control of the National Cemetery Administration or on the property of Arlington National Cemetery unless the demonstration has been approved by the cemetery superintendent or the director of the property on which the cemetery is located; or

(2) with respect to such a cemetery, a demonstration during the period beginning 60 minutes before and ending 60 minutes after a funeral, memorial service, or ceremony is held, any part of which demonstration--

(A)(i) takes place within 150 feet of a road, pathway, or other route of ingress to or egress from such cemetery property; and

(ii) includes, as part of such demonstration, any individual willfully making or assisting in the making of any noise or diversion that disturbs or tends to disturb the peace or good order of the funeral, memorial service, or ceremony; or

(B) is within 300 feet of such cemetery and impedes the access to or egress from such cemetery....

One can still fault the bill on various grounds. One possible problem is that this seems to punish people who engage in demonstrations if even one participant engages in "noise or diversion that ... tends to disturb the peace." Another is that it's not exactly clear what qualifies as a "road, pathway, or other route of ingress to or egress from"; would it just be the driveway that leads only to the cemetery, or would it also be any city street that would lead to the cemetery as well as to other places? (That vagueness can, I suppose, be cured by judicial construction, though it can nonetheless be faulted.)

Nonetheless, the law does seem to do less than "bar protests within 300 feet of the entrance of a cemetery and within 150 feet of a road into the cemetery from 60 minutes before to 60 minutes after a funeral." It bars only access-impeding demonstrations within 300 feet of the cemetery entrance, and only demonstrations that involve "noise or diversion that disturbs or tends to disturb the peace or good order of the ... ceremony" within 150 feet of the entrance road. If the latter provision is interpreted the way it has been in other laws that contain this language, it will be simply a content-neutral ban on speech that disturbs because of its noisiness and not its message. This would likely make the law constitutional, because of the limitation to disrupting or access-impeding demonstrations, possibly except for the one-loud-demonstrator-makes-all-liable provision.

Perhaps the "barred from disrupting" in the opening paragraph might be said to capture the extra requirement of blocking access or causing disruption. Still, it seems to me that in context, the AP story may well be reasonably read as simply asserting that the bill "would bar protests within 300 feet of the entrance of a cemetery and within 150 feet of a road into the cemetery from 60 minutes before to 60 minutes after a funeral." And that paints the law as quite a bit broader than it actually is.

Many thanks to reader Jeffrey Williams for the pointer to the AP story.

UPDATE: Commenter Jason Fliegel correctly points out that the ban applies to all demonstrations -- including favorable ones -- not just to protests. I was using protest as an imprecise term for demonstration, but it's better to be precise, especially if all it means is changing one word; I've therefore changed the post (in which I used the term "protest") accordingly.

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