The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 8-1 to allow the Westboro Baptist Church to protest at military funerals. They’re simply wrong…
Prohibiting protests at military funerals would NOT infringe on Westboro’s 1st Amendment rights. First of all- the 1st Amendment was originally “speaking” to the issue of seditious speech, and in that context it was to prevent the government from limiting political commentary.
The Westboro group is not making political commentary- they’ve decided to attach themselves to what is, by their own words, a social and moral issue. That is to say it’s their contention that somehow God is punishing the US because we allow gays to serve in the military.
Next is the fact- albeit one that has been ignored for some time, that the framers made it clear that your right to expression (or anything else) does not mean you have cart blanche to infringe on the rights of others. Westboro can in fact appear in media, take out ads if they wish, publish their own materials and even start their own TV network if they’d like without restriction or interference (provided they act lawfully in getting appropriate permits etc…).
What gives them the right to disrupt the peaceable assembly of a private group- those attending a funeral; to further their own social/political agenda? The court made their decision largely centered on the argument that the Westboro group is engaged in political speech- their criticism of government policy concerning homosexuality in the military. I’ve already made the contention that this is largely a social and moral issue- not a political issue. If they have an issue with the law, their demonstrations should be focused at their representatives and those that have the power to change the law, not the innocent participants in what we all would acknowledge is one of our most sacred and private rituals.
“’Speech is powerful. It can stir people to action, move them to tears of both joy and sorrow, and — as it did here — inflict great pain,’ Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in his majority opinion. ‘On the facts before us, we cannot react to that pain by punishing the speaker. As a nation we have chosen a different course — to protect even hurtful speech on public issues to ensure that we do not stifle public debate.’”
(Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2011/03/02/westboro-funeral-pickets-protected-speech-high-court-rules/#ixzz1FXfvMZuq)
To be blunt, a dead soldier and his or her family should not be the object of a protest over the government’s policy regarding gays in the military. Their issue should be with the government, not the serviceman that had nothing to do policy and who did nothing but serve honorably- emphasis on the word “serve.”
The lone dissenter, Judge Alito took the right stand but could have been stronger in his opinion:
“Our profound national commitment to free and open debate is not a license for the vicious verbal assault that occurred in this case,” Alito wrote. “In order to have a society in which public issues can be openly and vigorously debated, it is not necessary to allow the brutalization of innocent victims like petitioner. I therefore respectfully dissent.” (Also from FOX News, see previous link.)
The petitioner he refers to was Matthew Snyder, the dead Marine in whose name the suit was filed.
It is not only “not necessary to allow the brutalization of innocent victims like (the) petitioner,” it is in fact immoral and should have been illegal to allow such a demonstration. Banning Westboro and similar groups from interfering with a private funeral does not infringe on Westboro’s rights to free expression; rather it infringes on the right of peaceable assembly to the family and friends of the deceased soldier. The fact that it is a “military” funeral does not make it a public assembly- you might argue that point only if the funeral were held on federal public property like Arlington; which would open up an entirely different debate.
There are two solutions here:
1. Craft local, regional and/or state regulations expanding even further the restricted area around a funeral in which a public demonstration can be held. I would suggest a reasonable distance would be 100 miles.
2. The next time Fred Phelps and his disrespectful band of morally retarded followers target a military funeral, I suggest organizing a “cushion” group. Call on thousands of your friends and neighbors, get up very early and demonstrate in force around the burial ground. Your signs should express no ill will or malice toward the Westboro group- ignore them. Simply create a barrier of compassion and gratitude protecting the funeral from the hatred and ignorance of Phelps and his followers. Your signs should express gratitude for our fallen hero and for the family that sacrificed one of their own in service.
If Phelps comes to my area- rest assured I will be calling on you.