I've been a lawmaker long enough to know that my colleagues get it right on occasion. This is one of those cases. On Tuesday, August 29, the Legislature passed Senate Bill 661 to institute reasonable restrictions on the hateful protests of funerals, mostly military funerals, that we've seen in recent years. I'm a principal co-author of SB 661, and I supported it when it passed the Assembly. Unfortunately, a few Legislators did not support our military and the rights of the deceased and their families, but I still count this as a victory. If this bill is signed into law, it will prohibit protests at funerals, except on private property with permission, beginning one hour prior to a funeral and ending one hour after the conclusion of a funeral. This will give family and friends the time they deserve to grieve and remember a loved one.
I'm saddened that we live in an age when hate groups target military funerals and use the publicity as a platform for their extremist views. I'm also saddened that they and opponents of this bill attempt to hide behind the First Amendment. I believe in the First Amendment. I fought for it during my 26 years in the Marines, and many have perished in the name of that freedom. But freedom of speech does not give one the right to incite violence or to yell 'fire' in a crowded theater, nor does it give anyone unfettered access to inherently private affairs, such as funerals.
Death is a part of life, though sometimes it arrives early and painfully. As an infantry officer, I was often charged with delivering news of a Marine's death to his family. There were few tasks I dreaded more, though I knew the family of the deceased would endure a far greater burden than me. I never imagined the types of disgusting protests that would become commonplace in this day and age. We need to return to an America where people are respectful of each other, especially in sensitive times such as a funeral. Accomplishing this will take more than passing laws; all of us must look to ourselves to reintroduce the values and ideals that made this country great. I was heartened when 1000 people from Yucaipa and surrounding areas turned out to support Army Specialist Nathan "Tyler" Davis in June after a hate group planned to protest his funeral. Their actions in support of Davis and this bill are small steps toward the goal of restoring the America we once knew. I encourage everyone to urge Governor Brown to sign this bill. We will all benefit from a more civil society if SB 661 becomes law.