A bill signed into law earlier this week just made life a bit more difficult for members of the Westboro Baptist Church.
President Barack Obama signed the Honoring America's Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act Monday, awarding a range of benefits to servicemembers, but also putting in place restrictions on protests at military funerals.
Specifically, the new law requires protests at military funerals be held at least 300 feet away and forbids protesters from blocking entrances or exits within a 500-foot radius. Moreover, new restrictions ban demonstrations from taking place during the two hours before or two hours after a funeral.
For the Westboro Baptist Church, which has become infamous for holding signs that read, among other things, "God Hates Fags" outside of military funerals and blaming American casualties as punishment for acceptance of gay people, the law is a blow to one of their favorite tactics.
Obama signed the bill into law in the Oval Office, stating, "We have a moral sacred duty to our men and women in uniform."
"The graves of our veterans are hallowed grounds," Obama added, according to a pool report.
The law comes a year after the Supreme Court ruled that the Westboro Baptist Church and their protests were protected by the First Amendment. To the concern of freedom of speech advocates, it appears these new restrictions override that ruling.
"We have some serious First Amendment concerns with the law," said Gabe Rottman, legislative counsel and policy advisor for the American Civil Liberties Union.
In an interview with Metro Weekly, Rottman said the ACLU is particularly concerned that the provision of the law appears to directly target the Westboro Baptist Church.
"The First Amendment problem with it is that it looks like it could be used to target protests that, even though they're repellent, they're still totally peaceful and they're dealing with legitimate political speech, no matter how offensive," stated Rottman.
Rottman argues that the law is not about protecting the solemnity of military funerals, which are currently protected under private property and disorderly conduct laws, but is about censoring offensive and unpopular speech.
Although the ACLU is currently litigating against a Missouri law similar to the new federal law, Rottman said it remains to be seen if the ACLU will challenge this new federal restriction.
Nevertheless, the Westboro Baptist Church, which has been labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League, said the law will have no effect on their tactics.
"We are still going to be out there at soldiers' funerals warning people that America is doomed," said Steve Drain, who, with his wife and daughters, are the only members of the church not related to founder Fred Phelps.
In an interview with ABC News, Drain said their protests will continue in a "lawful fashion."
"We will stand 301 feet away. There is prime preaching real estate at 301 feet," stated Drain. "My voice can carry a lot farther than 300 feet. That is only the size of a football field."
When Congress approved the bill last week, church members were vehement in their opposition.
Fred Phelps's daughter, Margie, responded to initial reports of the bill's passage, tweeting, "Smile. Let's see where God takes this, k? #FagsStillDoomNations."