Putting An End To Funeral Protests

“It goes without saying that what Fred Phelps and the rest of the lunatics in God Hates F*gs are doing is completely beyond the pale, especially when they’re protesting these funerals. That community can — and should — be able to legally ban their funeral protests without running afoul of the First Amendment.

If it’s permissible under the First Amendment to require permits to protest, prohibit the use of, “fighting words,” and disallow people from disturbing the peace by, let’s say, holding rallies at 3 AM in residential neighborhoods, then certainly communities should be within their rights to ban people from protesting funerals — and again, they should.

At a minimum, Phelps and his group of wackos are incredibly disrespectful to people who are mourning and at worst, their behavior is so intentionally provocative that it could very easily lead to violent confrontations.

That’s why it’s time for local governments to step in and shut down these funeral protests once and for all.” — John Hawkins on Jan 9, 2006

From the New York Times yesterday,

“In the past few months, nine states, including Oklahoma, Wisconsin and Indiana, have approved laws that restrict demonstrations at a funeral or burial. In addition, 23 state legislatures are getting ready to vote on similar bills, and Congress, which has received thousands of e-mail messages on the issue, expects to take up legislation in May dealing with demonstrations at federal cemeteries.

“I haven’t seen something like this,” said David L. Hudson Jr., research attorney for the First Amendment Center, referring to the number of state legislatures reacting to the protests. “It’s just amazing. It’s an emotional issue and not something that is going to get a lot of political opposition.”

Most of the state bills and laws have been worded carefully to try to avoid concerns over the First Amendment, which guarantees freedom of speech. The laws typically seek to keep demonstrators at a funeral or cemetery 100 to 500 feet from the entrance, depending on the state, and to limit the protests to one hour before and one hour after the funeral.

A few states, including Wisconsin, also seek to bar people from displaying “any visual image that conveys fighting words” within several hundred feet or during the hours of the funeral. The laws or bills do not try to prevent protesters from speaking out.

Constitutional experts say there is some precedent for these kinds of laws. One case in particular, which sought to keep anti-abortion picketers away from a private home, was upheld by the Supreme Court in 1988.

“A funeral home seems high on the list of places where people legitimately could be or should be protected from unwanted messages,” said Michael C. Dorf, a constitutional law professor at Columbia University Law School.”

All I can say is that I’d like to see these laws in every state and the sooner that they’re enacted, the better as far as I’m concerned.

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