House bill would target ‘disruptive conduct’ at military funerals

By Bob Eschliman


A bill proposed by the Iowa House Judiciary Committee, chaired by state Rep. Chip Baltimore (R-Boone), would allow the families of military members whose funerals are disrupted by protesters to sue for damages.

House Study Bill 157 makes those lawsuits a matter of civil action in court, not criminal. Currently, anyone who “knowingly and publicly” uses the U.S. Flag to “show disrespect for the flag as a symbol of the United States,” to provoke or encourage another to commit trespass or assault is guilty of disorderly conduct, a simple misdemeanor.

Current law also includes offenses for disorderly conduct occurring within 500 feet of a funeral or memorial service. The proposed legislation would change the distance restriction to 1,000 feet.

“The bill also establishes a new offense within that category of disorderly conduct for knowingly and publicly using the Flag of the United States, of the State of Iowa, or of a military unit or division of the armed forces of the United States, or of the state military forces, or a flag recognizing prisoners of war, with the intent or reasonable expectation that such use will provoke or encourage another to commit trespass or assault.”

Under HSB 157, a person commits infliction of emotional distress upon a family member of a military service member or another attendee if the person intentionally or knowingly engages in disruptive conduct within 1,000 feet of the building or other location where a funeral or memorial service is being conducted, or within 1,000 feet of a funeral procession or burial for a military service member with the purpose or effect of causing, or with reckless disregard of the probability of causing, emotional distress to the family of a military service member or another attendee at the funeral, memorial service, funeral procession, or burial of a military service member. It provides that liquidated damages in those cases shall be $10,000 for each plaintiff who is a family member and $5,000 for non-family members.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa is opposed to the bill, while the Iowa Funeral Directors Association is “undecided.”