Town won't fine those who violate funeral protest law

2013-04-16T21:11:00Z 2013-04-16T21:31:05Z Town won't fine those who violate funeral protest lawBy Phil Wieland, (219) 548-4352

HEBRON | Anyone violating the town's ordinance against protests at funerals won't face Hebron's justice. They will have to deal with the state's.

Following passage last month of the ordinance requiring protesters to stay at least 300 feet away from the site of a funeral service, a resident asked the council what the penalty would be for violating the new law since it wasn't specifically stated in the ordinance.

The council said it would have to investigate that before making a decision. Council President Don Ensign read a statement at Tuesday's council meeting that the ordinance would not be changed.

"The council did not enact this ordinance to put people in jail or to collect fines for the town," Ensign said. "We did this as a statement of our position in a very delicate balance between the right of freedom of speech and the right of peaceful assembly. So, rather than impose a penalty for violation of this ordinance, we would like for this ordinance to represent a statement of policy for the town."

The ordinance is aimed at group's like the Westboro Baptist Church, which has staged protests at the funerals of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan by claiming the deaths are God's punishment for U.S. tolerance of gays.

Ensign said state law already prohibits disturbances within 500 feet of a funeral service, and the council's instructions to the Hebron Police Department are, if someone violates the restriction to stay at least 300 feet away, officers will request them to move back to the proper distance.

Failure to comply would be a violation of the state law and subject to a fine under that code. Anyone continuing to resist would violate the state law about peaceful assembly and be subject to an additional fine.

"It is our position that this ordinance does not restrain anyone's freedom of speech since a person with a bullhorn can clearly be heard from 300 feet away," Ensign said. "This is merely an effort to balance the respective rights of our citizens so as to prevent confrontations and possible violence."

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