The effort follows a Supreme Court decision in March striking down a lawsuit against the Westboro Baptist Church, which pickets the funerals of U.S. service-members, as part of its claim that God is punishing the United States for supporting homosexuality.
The court ruled that such protests are protected speech under the First Amendment, but states hope to get around that by creating protest-free buffer zones, or reserved areas, around funerals and routes to funerals.
Arizona, Arkansas, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, West Virginia and Wyoming already have passed such laws this year, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Laws are pending in 14 other states, including California, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Oregon and Texas. They have failed in Florida, Mississippi, Nevada and Utah.
Local jurisdictions in New York and Maryland also have proposed laws to protect military funerals.
Congress is also considering federal legislation. The Sanctity of Eternal Rest for Veterans (SERVE) Act would increase the quiet time before and after military funerals from 60 minutes to 120 minutes; increase the buffer around services from 150 feet to 300 feet; increase the buffer around access routes to services from 300 feet to 500 feet; and increase civil penalties.
The federal bill was introduced April 13 and referred to the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. It is sponsored by Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, and has 25 Senate co-sponsors. They already have suits pending in Oklahoma, Missouri, Ohio and Kentucky, said Fred Phelps Jr., a Kansas lawyer and son of the pastor heading the church.