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August 26, 2011

Oswego County Legislature to Hold Public Hearing on Military Funerals Law

OSWEGO - The Oswego County Legislature plans to vote on a measure Sept. 15 that would prohibit groups and individuals from picketing or disrupting military funerals in Oswego County. A public hearing will be held at 2 p.m. prior to the start of the Sept. 15 Legislature meeting at the County Office Building, 46 E. Bridge St., Oswego.

Legislature Chairman Barry Leemann, District 4, brought up the issue this spring after an Internet site reported that a conservative church in Topeka, Kansas threatened to disrupt the funeral of Navy pilot Lt. Nathan Hollingsworth Williams of Minetto.

The proposed new law "recognizes the significant sacrifice that deceased and former members of the United State Armed Forces have made in defense of this nation and further recognizes that the County of Oswego is currently home to approximately 18,000 veterans," and notes that family members have a right to organize funerals and mourn the loss of their loved ones without disruption by protests and demonstrations.

The proposed law prohibits demonstrations within 500 feet of the funeral or memorial event, from two hours prior to two hours after the event is completed. Violations are punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 and up to a year's imprisonment.

The proposal was approved by the Legislature's Health and Human Services Committee at its July meeting. Similar measures are being considered in other counties in New York State.

"Protestors will know where the county stands in this regard," said Committee chairman John Proud, District 7, chairman of the Legislature's Health and Human Services Committee. In addition to Legislator Proud, the committee includes vice chairman Jacob Mulcahey, District 15; Barbara Brown, District 8; James Karasek, District 22; Margaret Kastler, District 1; Ronald Sakonyi, District 5; and Terry Wilbur, District 21.

"Anytime an issue like the funeral protest comes up in our county, I do my own poll with veterans of different ages that I meet with," said Donna Kestner, Director of the County Veterans Service Agency. "Everyone that I have spoken with agrees wholeheartedly with this proposed legislation. The consensus is -- we appreciate your right to protest; please thank a veteran for giving you that right, and respect our grieving families by following the laws of protesting. One would hope everyone would feel this way but, as we have seen in the news, not everyone does. Enacting our own legislation is an excellent idea."

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