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A Question of Respect

Thursday, May 25, 2006, 18:55 EDT Leave a comment Go to comments

Congress has passed a law prohibiting demonstrations at military funerals. The law targets a group of fanatics from a so-called church in Kansas who travel to funerals of fallen service members and hold signs that say such brilliant things as, “Thank God for dead soldiers.”

The sponsor of the House bill, Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., said he took up the issue after attending a military funeral in his home state, where mourners were greeted by “chants and taunting and some of the most vile things I have ever heard.”

“Families deserve the time to bury their American heroes with dignity and in peace,” Rogers said Wednesday before the Hosue [sic] vote.

The demonstrators are led by the Rev. Fred Phelps of Topeka, Kan., who has previously organized protests against those who died of AIDS and gay murder victim Matthew Shepard.

By way of background, Phelps and his merry band of maggots believe that God is killing soldiers in Iraq to punish the United States for accepting homosexuality. These people are vile hatemongers who are to Christianity what Osama bin Laden and that fruit loop who runs Iran are to Islam.

That’s why it nauseates me to write what I’m about to write. I can’t support a law like this. As much as I support the military, collectively and individually, I believe strongly what they fight to uphold—freedom and our Constitution, including the first amendment—should protect even the most reprehensible speech and non-violent protest. As long as the wing nuts from Kansas don’t cross that line, what they’re doing shouldn’t be banned.

Ironically, the same people vowing to argue the unconstitutionality of this law are the same people who supported buffer zones at abortion clinics.


Schenck v. Pro-Choice Network of Western New York

519 U.S. 357

In this case, the ACLU filed a friend-of-the-court brief defending the constitutionality of two provisions of an injunction obtained by abortion clinics in western New York as a remedy against blockades and other disruptive forms of protest. The Supreme Court upheld a fixed 15-foot buffer zone around clinic doorways, driveways, and parking lot entrances. It struck down a floating 15-foot buffer zone around people or vehicles entering or leaving a clinic.

That’s the kind of hypocrisy you get when your real motivation is ideology instead of constitutionality. But I digress.

For those of us interested in constitutional rights and sympathy for grieving families, there are plenty of legal ways to keep these yahoos away besides resorting to unconstitutional laws. Requiring permits for demonstrations on federal property would allow for controls. Even in locations this law doesn’t cover, such as churches and funeral homes, private property owners can prohibit protests on their own grounds. Municipalities can place requirements on gatherings that block traffic, sidewalks, and funeral processions. Such restrictions, as long as they are enforced uniformly, would blunt the effect of a lot of these spectacles. As for the rest, well, perhaps that is the price we have to pay for the freedoms our military is charged with defending.

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