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Shields pushing passage of peaceful funerals bill

by Ivan Foley
Landmark editor

In an exclusive interview with The Landmark Friday afternoon, State Sen. Charlie Shields said he never imagined there would come a time for a need to legislate behavior at a funeral.

The time has come, at least in the minds of Shields and other supporters of a measure in the Missouri legislature to preserve the right to peaceful funerals.

The bill is designed to protect all Missourians' rights to a peaceful and decent funeral. It is sponsored by Shields, Republican of St. Joseph, whose district includes Platte County, along with State Rep. Martin Rucker, Republican of St. Joseph, who will carry the measure in the house of representatives.

Picketing and protesting of funeral services from one hour before the service, during the service, and no sooner than one hour after the funeral are prohibited by the bill.

The bill was passed out of the Senate last week and was assigned to the House Crime Prevention and Public Safety Committee last Thursday. It is awaiting hearing by that committee, a hearing that will likely happen by next Tuesday, according to Shields' office staff.

Shields began pushing the measure after a vocal and unruly crowd of protesters assembled under the pretext of opposing war in Iraq. The crowd, led by a controversial minister from Topeka, Ks., willfully disrupted the August funeral services of Edward Lee Myers, a specialist with the U.S. Army who was killed by a car bomb on July 27 in Iraq.

Shields told The Landmark the legislation would apply to all funerals, not just military funerals services. It would apply to protests at a cemetery, church, and funeral home. First violation is a Class B misdemeanor, second violation would be a Class A misdemeanor.

"Spec. Myers was killed by enemy munitions in a war globally defending the rights of free speech and assembly. There is no doubt Spc. Myers earned and deserved the right for his friends and family to be spared this disgracefully inappropriately display of hatred," Shields remarked.

A St. Joseph resident, Spc. Myers died on his second tour of duty in Iraq, leaving behind his wife and their two children. He was 21 years old.

His widow, Jean Myers, gave emotional testimony before the committee in favor of the legislation to prevent future funerals of service men and women from being disrupted in what she described as "the worst thing in the world.”

"We pulled up there and there were people there with these bright signs saying such hateful things," she said. "I'm having to explain to my son not only why his daddy isn't coming home but why there are mean people outside.”

According to Shields, more than a dozen military, National Guard and veterans' representatives also testified in favor of the bill.

The committee, in an unusual move, held an executive session and voted on the bill immediately after hearing public testimony.

Shields says the fast pace of the bill is extremely important to protect other families from future protests.

"This measure has an emergency clause which means as soon as it is signed by the governor it takes effect," Shields said.

"Our brave military men and women who are killed in the line of duty deserve nothing less than a peaceful ceremony where their families can grieve and say goodbye. The sooner we can pass this bill, the sooner that will be a reality for all families in Missouri," Shields stated.


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