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Vets support limiting funeral protests

QUEENSBURY-As Warren County leaders convened April 15 to consider local laws including a measure to protect the sanctity of funerals, six Chestertown-area veterans talked in the county Supervisors' chambers.

Korean War Veteran Curt Castner gazed at the American flag in the corner of the room.

"I believe in American freedoms and rights of free speech," he said. "But if my son was killed in a conflict, I wouldn't want protesters outside his funeral shouting they were glad he was dead."

In the wake of last month's U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding the right of a Kansas church to hold disruptive anti-gay protests outside military funerals, the Warren County Board of Supervisors is proposing a law that prohibits protests within 750 feet of funerals, funeral processions and burial ceremonies one hour before, during and one hour after they occur.

The board of supervisors voted in favor of the local law, setting a public hearing at 10 a.m. May 20 on the measure.

This county law is more restrictive than a proposed federal Sanctity of Eternal Rest for Veterans Act that would set a minimum distance for protests at 300 feet for funerals and 500 feet for funeral processions - a bill introduced by U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand last week.

"This common sense legislation will ensure our heroes are buried with the honor and dignity they deserve," Gillibrand said in a prepared statement released the day the bill was introduced in the U.S. Senate by a bipartisan group of lawmakers.

The laws were introduced in response to the protests held at military funerals across the nation by the Westboro Baptist Church, whose members say that the deaths of U.S. soldiers are a sign of divine punishment for our nation's tolerance of homosexuality. The church has conducted more than 30,000 demonstrations in 450 cities or more over the last two decades, it is estimated.

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