When Lourey's son Matthew was killed in Iraq last year, no protesters disrupted his funeral. Sen. Lourey says if they had, she would have endured them. She says her son fought and died for the freedoms enshrined in the Bill of Rights, including the freedom of speech.
"We can say whatever we want to say, no matter how ugly, and we don't get thrown in jail," Lourey said.
Lourey says the speech that disrupted a soldier's funeral last month was ugly, but it shouldn't be a crime.
At the funeral of Army Cpl. Andrew Kemple in Anoka, a half-dozen members of a Kansas church shouted anti-gay messages at mourners. The group from Westburo Baptist Church claims God is killing American soldiers because the U.S. tolerates homosexuality.
Lourey says the Legislature shouldn't restrict the speech of the Kansas group or anyone else.
"I've had people standing with signs and ugly words against me after I've walked through the halls of the Capitol after a vote, or entered a building, and I have always understood that they have a right to do that," Lourey said.
The sponsor of the Senate bill, Sen. Don Betzold, DFL-Fridley, says he respects free speech, but it must be balanced with the privacy rights of grieving family members.
His bill makes it a misdemeanor to willfully disrupt a funeral. It differs from the bill that unanimously passed the House last week, which requires protestors to stay 1,000 feet away from funerals. The American Civil Liberties Union says the 1,000-foot requirement may be too far to survive a court challenge.
The most passionate support for the Senate bill came from the two openly gay members of the Senate, DFLer Scott Dibble of Minneapolis and Republican Paul Koering of Fort Ripley.
Dibble passed out pictures of anti-gay demonstrators in Minnesota and other states, holding signs that read "AIDS is God's Curse" and "Death Penalty for Homosexuals." He says the Kansas group has been picketing the funerals of gays for years, including the funeral of a University of Wyoming student who was beaten and left to die because he was gay.
"They showed up when Matthew Shepard was killed with their ugly signs of protest. They've been showing up for 10 years, tormenting partners and families of deceased people who've been lost to HIV and AIDS as well," said Dibble.
At Dibble's request, the Senate unanimously amended the bill to extend protections to grieving gay families.
Dibble and Koering also pushed to toughen the penalties in the bill, but the amendment was rejected. Koering argued that a misdemeanor wasn't harsh enough.
"When you have a group that has on their Web site that says, 'I'd rather have 10,000 Marines killed than just 10,' something's wrong," said Koering. "So I think it's important to send a strong message to these people, we're not going to tolerate this in Minnesota."
Koering's amendment would have made it a gross misdemeanor the first time someone disrupted a funeral, and a felony the second time. Betzold argued that would delay the bill's passage, because it would have to go back to several committees.
Supporters of the legislation are calling for quick passage to prevent future protests. Betzold said he doesn't expect any problems resolving the differences between the House and Senate versions, and Gov. Pawlenty, who attended Kemple's funeral in Anoka, has said he supports legislation restricting funeral demonstrations.
The issue has also surfaced at the federal level. Minnesota Congressman Mark Kennedy and Michigan Congressman Mike Rogers are proposing legislation to ban protests during funerals at national cemeteries.