Nassau County is getting ready to tell protesters to take a step back – or rather, an additional 700-feet worth.
Two days after the United States Supreme Court ruled 8-1 in the case of Snyder v. Phelps, siding with funeral protesting members of the Westboro Baptist Church over the privacy rights of the deceased and their families, Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano introduced legislation to push demonstrations back further from funeral sites.
“Our disagreement is best reflected in Justice (Samuel) Alito’s dissent where he opined ‘in order to have a society in which public issues can be openly and vigorously debated it is not necessary to allow the brutalization of innocent victims’,” Mangano said Monday morning at the County . “I believe a family’s right of privacy to grieve without disturbance is paramount.”
The new law proposes pushing back the current 300 foot buffer zone to a minimum of 1,000 feet and would require groups to obtain a permit “to regulate the time, place and manner of demonstrations,” Mangano said. “It is our intention to strengthen our law as much as possible.”
The current statute adopted in 2010 limits the time a group may protest, barring demonstrations from occurring an hour before and an hour after a funeral. Nassau does not have a permit process in place as pertains to funerals.
“It’s the fact that they’re letting them do this,” Mineola VFW Commander Manny Grilo said. “And it could be the reverse – we could go protest at their funerals. We won’t do that, we don’t stoop that low. What’s to stop anyone from protesting at any funeral? You draw the line at certain areas, you have some kind of respect.”
It is the county’s interpretation of the Supreme Court ruling that the government can monitor the time and place of the protest which provides the basis for the proposed law.
“We believe its constitutional,” Mangano said, confident it “will be consistent with the opinion and is paramount to ensure a proper, respectful way to mourn those that have given their life to protect the very freedom that we discuss here today.”
Sal Cataldo, Commander of the American Legion in Mineola, commended Mangano for the proposal. “Don’t you feel the families of the veterans are entitled to this?” he said. “I can’t understand eight Supreme Court judges, they should go look for jobs.”
Protests have been reported in Massapequa, Great Neck, Glen Cove as well as New York City during a visit by Pope Benedict XVI.
“The fact that they’re able to go and protest at funerals, I think that its carrying it too far,” Grilo, a Vietnam veteran, said. “I’m for freedom, hey yes you can protest. I think when you carry it too far like Jane Fonda did and going to help, aid and abet the enemy and what these people are doing at funerals, there’s a time and a place. I don’t think funerals is a place to protest.”
Nancy Fuentes, a Levittown resident whose 19-year old son Daniel was killed in Iraq in 2007 by an improvised explosive device, felt that it was “disgusting and disrespectful to allow such form of protest when I’m grieving. All our fallen heroes from all wars died for our freedom and because of that these protesters have the freedom to express their stupidity. Does that seem fair?”