Monday, January 30, 2006

Funeral March

From the Washington Post:

At least five Midwestern states are considering legislation to ban protests at funerals in response to demonstrations by the Rev. Fred Phelps and members of his Topeka, Kan.-based Westboro Baptist Church, who have been protesting at funerals of Iraq war casualties because they say the deaths are God’s punishment for U.S. tolerance toward gays.

Though the soldiers were not gay, the protesters say the deaths, as well as Hurricane Katrina, recent mining disasters and other tragedies are God’s signs of displeasure. They also protested at the memorial service for the 12 West Virginia miners who died in the Sago Mine.

“The families weren’t able to bury their loved ones in peace,” said Kansas state Sen. Jean Schodorf, who has proposed legislation. “We felt pretty strongly that we needed to do something about it.”

Kansas already has a law banning demonstrations at funerals, but Schodorf said the existing law is vague and hard to enforce. The proposed bill would keep protesters 300 feet away from any funeral or memorial service and ban demonstrations within one hour before or two hours after a service.

Legislators in Illinois, Indiana, Missouri and Oklahoma are looking at similar bills. Proposed legislation in Indiana would keep protesters 500 feet from funerals, and make a violation a felony punishable by a three-year prison term and a $10,000 fine.


Shirley Phelps-Roper, Phelps’s daughter and an attorney for the church, said if legislation passes, the group will challenge it in court. “Whatever they do would be unconstitutional,” she said. “These aren’t private funerals; these are patriotic pep rallies. Our goal is to call America an abomination, to help the nation connect the dots. You turn this nation over to the fags and our soldiers come home in body bags.”

As despicable and hateful as I find Ms. Phelps-Roper’s reasoning, I think it’s a problematic exercise in Constitutional law to pass this legislation, and unless the state can prove a compelling reason such as a threat to life or public safety, the funeral protest bans won’t pass First Amendment muster. And if a state can pass a ban on these demonstrations, who’s to say they can’t pass a ban on other protests as well such as anti-war marches outside a presidential ranch?

I also think that as pathetic and sick as Mr. Phelps and his trolls are, the more they are exposed to the harsh light of day the more people will see that they are just a bunch of whack-jobs. Come on; protesting at the funerals of the miners killed in West Virginia? Let the world see that not only are these people nothing but a small collection of hateful bigots to the point where even Pat Robertson would say, “Hey, you’re off your meds,” and prove that the First Amendment can stand for the opinions that some of us despise because it also stands for the opinions we cherish.