With no debate, the Texas House unanmiously passed a bill today restricting certain protests with one particular group in mind: the Westboro Baptist Church.
The Topeka, Kan.-based group has gained national noteriety for protesting at a wide range of events, most notably military funerals. The tiny but outspoken group's members claims that U.S. military deaths are god's punishment for the country's tolerance of homosexuality. In March, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the church's right to continue protesting at military funerals.
Texas already forbids protests within 1,000 feet of a funeral during the hour before or after a funeral service. The radius was increased from 500 feet back in 2007 solely as an effort to deter the Westboro Baptist Church. This afternoon, the Texas House passed House Bill 718, which would extend the time period in which protesting near a funeral is prohibited to three hours before and after the service.
Though the bill would apply to all funerals, bill sponsor Rep. Allen Fletcher, R-Houston, made the actual intent clear when he told members the bill would bar "individuals from picketing at our heroes' funerals."
The bill still has to pass in the Senate.
The church has protested at least twice in Tarrant County in the last year. In July, about a dozen Westboro members protested at two area churches and drew more than 100 counter-protesters, many waiving irreverent signs. In February, a few Westboro members showed up with signs at the Super Bowl.