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New Suffolk law bans protests at military funerals

Protesters threated to demonstrate at the funeral of

Protesters threated to demonstrate at the funeral of Army Lt. Joseph Theinert, of Shelter Island. (June 11, 2010) Photo Credit: Ed Betz

More than two dozen veterans on motorcycles, along with a camouflage Hummer, carried a newly signed Suffolk law to the county clerk Tuesday to protect local military funerals from being disrupted by protests.

The motorcycle procession, organized by the Long Island Patriot Guard Riders, rode from Hauppauge to Riverhead after County Executive Steve Levy signed the legislation surrounded by nearly two dozen American flags held by veterans and three families who lost loved ones in conflict.

The legislation, sponsored by Legis. Steven Stern (D-Dix Hills), head of the veterans committee, is aimed at preventing the protests organized by the Westboro Baptist Church, a Kansas-based sect that has picketed with signs and messages of bigotry at as many as 50 funerals, mainly in the Midwest. The group has threatened to demonstrate on Long Island, but has not yet made an appearance.

The measure bars protests within 150 feet of a church, mortuary or other location where a military funeral is being held one hour before, during or after a service. It meant those who made the ultimate sacrifice "can now truly rest in peace," said Stern, adding he's "profoundly disturbed" about a need for the law. "This sends a message that we will do all in our collective power to protect them and you."

Michael Picerno, director of Calverton National Cemetery, hailed the measure, saying it will ensure the dignity of future local military burials and "people will not have to go though outrageous and disgraceful protests."

Levy signed the legislation with a pen made of used bullet casings supplied by the new Veterans of Foreign Wars County Commander Syd Lynn, whose son is currently serving in the Middle East. "It's the ultimate insult when some political group takes it upon themselves to hold a protest at a funeral - it's just not right," Levy said.

Tim Scherer of Northport, who lost his son, Chris, in Iraq in 2007, said he would ask protesters whether they had a "valid reason" to do it at a funeral. "If they want to protest, they should do it on the Capitol steps," he said.

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