Lawmaker seeks to prohibit papers from publishing addresses in obituaries

Monday, March 30, 1998

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — A bill that would prohibit newspapers from publishing the address of someone who has died in an obituary amounts to censorship, opponents said.

The bill stirred heated debate at a House Health, Education and Welfare committee hearing on Thursday, pitting First Amendment rights against the right to privacy. No vote was taken by the committee.

“When do you think decency will ever get included in the First Amendment?” asked Rep. Peter Ginaitt, D-Warwick.

Steven Brown, director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Rhode Island, said if the First Amendment is to mean anything, one must rely on the discretion of the media.

“The alternative is giving the state the power to make those decisions for us, and I think that is much greater harm than the indiscretions that the media themselves engage in,” Brown said.

Rep. Elaine Coderre, D-Pawtucket, a sponsor of the bill, has introduced the bill three years in a row at the request of a Cranston woman, who wanted to omit her home address and the address of her late husband’s business from his obituary.

The addresses ran anyway and his office was broken into a week later.

The bill says “the next of kin may, upon request, omit the decedent’s street address and business address in any published obituary.”

“What I support is the family’s right to feel safe and secure in their own home,” Coderre said.

The executive editor of the state’s largest newspaper, the Providence Journal Bulletin, issued a statement in response to the bill.

“We see any attempt to legislate news publishing to be a violation of the First Amendment and an unwarranted intrusion between the newspaper and its readers,” said Joel Rawson.