On the heels of a U.S. Supreme Court decision barring lawsuits against protesters at funerals of American soldiers, County Executive Edward Mangano proposed legislation Monday that would heavily curtail how such protests could be held in Nassau.
Mangano said his proposal to the County Legislature would expand the 300-foot buffer zone enacted by the county last year to "at least 1,000 feet." In addition, protesters for the first time would be required to get county permits, and protests would be barred for one hour before and one hour after a funeral.
Nancy Fuentes of Levittown, who lost her 19-year-old son, Daniel, in 2007 to an improvised explosive device in Iraq, appeared at a news conference with Mangano and called such protests "disgusting and disrespectful. . . . No parent or family member or friend should experience these horrible protests that interrupt their grieving."
In an 8-1 decision, the Supreme Court last week threw out an $11-million jury verdict against Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church from Topeka, Kan. He and his family gained attention for using military funerals as a backdrop to proclaim an anti-gay and anti-military message.
Asked about the legality of his proposal in light of the high court's decision, Mangano said: "We believe it's constitutional. . . . The court's decision still permits governments to reasonably regulate the time, place and manner of public speech."
Leon Friedman, a professor of constitutional law at the Hofstra University Law School said the high court's decision made "a clear distinction between political - that is, issues of public concern - and private speech. It also said states could restrict political activity that actually intrudes on the privacy of others. So any such restrictive state [or county] law must make that distinction or it's in trouble.
"A thousand feet seems like a long distance to me, though," Friedman said of Mangano's proposal.
In Suffolk, which prohibits protests within 150 feet of a funeral and also bars them from one hour before until one hour after the service, County Executive Steve Levy said he's spoken with the county attorney since the Supreme Court ruling and believes Suffolk's law is constitutional.
With Kery Murakami