Inspired by a history class project and the events leading Snyder v. Phelps to the Supreme Court, high school senior Zach Parker is using the legislative process to ban protests from military funerals.
BELFAST, Maine – It started out as a class history project for 17-year-old Searsport Regional High School student Zach Parker, but the more he learned, the more infuriated he became.
How could a church picket funerals of dead soldiers? Parker said he has an uncle in the National Guard who might be deployed next year.
“I can’t even think about if I had to lay him to rest for the last time and I’d have to deal with these people,” he said.
The people are the members of the Westboro Baptist Church, a Kansas congregation that has made a name for itself by protesting at soldiers’ funerals across the country.
Parker wants to stop them.
The student is working on a plan to propose federal legislation to ban all protests at military funerals. Three federal laws and laws in at least 40 states, including Maine, limit protests near military funerals, but they do not prevent them. The U.S. Supreme Court has heard arguments against the church’s actions and is expected to rule on it next year.
Parker’s legislation, entitled “Respect for Fallen Heroes and Citizens Act of 2010,” reads:
“No person shall protest including taunting, or showing any public display of disapproval one clock hour from the beginning and end of a funeral, burial or memorial service, and may not enter within three-hundred feet of the grounds.”
On Wednesday, Parker presented his history project to the public:
The Searsport event began a little like a patriotic pep rally and included a prayer to honor all veterans, a rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” and a video featuring footage of dusty Middle East war zones.
Many of the people in attendance said that Parker’s goal of keeping funerals free of people who would taunt, insult or annoy mourning family and friends sounded just about right to them.
“The First Amendment is not an absolute,” said Charliy Michaud of Searsport. “There’s a certain level of common sense. I think it’s a wonderful idea, and I hope it works.”
Danny Bowden of Bangor came down with several other members of The Exiles, a Maine-based motorcycle group.
“I wanted to support this kid and this bill, because it’s not right to protest at any funeral, really, and especially our military funerals,” he said.
Although only 17, Parker’s legislation is receiving national attention, from U.S. Senators and Representatives toFox News. When asked by Fox & Friends co-host Dave Briggs on the message sent by his actions, Parkerresponded:
“I can tell you not to underestimate any project you’re given,” he said. “I certainly never expected to be on national news for this. This was just a small-town project and has turned out to be a national phenomenon.”
On that note, Parker’s history teacher is beaming with pride:
“I asked them to find something they’re interested in and become active. What would you do? Some take it to the extreme, which Zach did — it’s his personality,” said Parker’s history teacher, Gail Anthonis. “I think it’s a great way for kids to learn to be politically involved. They may be 17 or 18 years old, but they can do something. They can be heard.”
Harlan’s FantasySCOTUS asks students to examine Snyder v. Phelps, and think about these same issues. The Supreme Court is faced with a very real, relevant, and personal question – does the First Amendment protect the right of protesters to display signs containing offensive messages near funerals of fallen military service members? Please visit our site to sign up your classroom and download the lesson plan for your class on this issue.
Parker’s interview on the Fox News morning show, Fox & Friends:
Watch the latest video at video.foxnews.com