President Obama hopes his pen is mightier than the picket. He signed into law new restrictions for protesters at military funerals. They involve space and time. Protesters can no longer be within 300 feet of a funeral service within two hours of its start or until two hours after it ends.
"The graves of our veterans are hallowed ground," the president said just before signing the bill Monday afternoon.
The law is the direct result of a York County man's legal challenge. Al Snyder's son Matthew was killed in action. The Westboro Baptist Church protested the funeral with hate-filled signs and chants.
Snyder sued and initially won. The case ultimately went to the Supreme Court, which ruled in Westboro's favor, saying their protest was protected speech.
Moments after Obama signed the new restrictions into law, Snyder said losing in the courts helped him win in Congress.
"I may not have won in the US Supreme Court but I think I won," Snyder said. "I'm winning the battles now and that's what its all about. Eventually, we won't have to worry about this group of idiots."
The Pennsylvania Funeral Directors Association support the restrictions. "I think that two hours before, and two hours after, if they want to stand there and yell at the air, good for them," said John Eirkson, the PFDA executive director.
But it's probably not that simple. The Westboro Baptist Church says it may challenge the new law in court as a violation of its free speech rights. It also promises to continue its protesting of military funerals...from 301 feet away.
"Of course we can and we will," said Susan Phelps-Roper of Westboro Baptist. "That's what the law says, 300 feet. It's unconstitutional. You're not supposed to abridge, not supposed to impugn, not supposed to put your hand to make a message disappear."
Westboro Baptist visibly protests at military funerals because it believes God kills US soldiers because America is too accepting of homosexuality. They bring large signs and loud chants to funerals.
"The reality is whether you're 200 or 300 feet away, their signs are so big, so colorful you'll see them," said Sean Summers, Snyder's attorney.
Summers, of York, first was awarded $10.9 million. It was then reduced to $5 million. It was then completely thrown out by the Supreme Court ruling. Al Snyder never saw a cent.
While Snyder applauds the new law and new restrictions, he would much prefer suing Westboro Baptist out of existence.
"I'm 100-percent confident that this law would not be necessary, they (Westboro) would not be traveling, because they would not have any resources to travel, if that judgement had stayed in place."
It didn't. In fact, Snyder was ordered to pay $16,500 to cover Westboro's court costs. Summers says they still haven't paid and won't until Westboro forces the issue.
"We're not going to make it easy on them by simply mailing a check," Summers said. "If they want the money, let them come to York, Pennsylvania to collect."