Despite concerns about infringing on First Amendment rights, Montana has joined 30 other states in passing legislation to keep protesters away from military funerals. Gov. Brian Schweitzer on Friday signed a bill that bans protests within 1,500 feet, or six city blocks, of a funeral or memorial, beginning one hour before the funeral starts and lasting until one hour after it ends. The law is aimed at keeping a Kansas church group from picketing military funerals. Members of the Westboro Baptist Church, which has no connection to mainstream Baptist churches, contend that God is punishing U.S. soldiers in Iraq because America condones homosexuality. “These people have crossed the line,” Schweitzer said. “We are sending a sign that says, Not in our hometown, not with our families, not with our fallen soldiers.’” Debate on the legislation, which passed the Senate 35-14 and the House 65-35, focused on the right to assemble versus a family’s right to grieve in peace. “If you ban this disagreeable speech, you’ve taken a path that maybe America and Montana shouldn’t,” said John Barrows, executive director of the Montana Newspaper Association. “The very freedoms these people died for are at risk in trying to protect the rights at a funeral.” Schweitzer said he’s somewhat concerned that the bill may open the state up to litigation by the church group on First Amendment grounds. But he said the state will address that issue if it arises. Under the new law, violators face up to a $1,000 fine and a year in jail, and may be forced to pay possible punitive damages to the family of the deceased.