Monday, January 30, 2006

Ban Protests?

A small but vocal group of religious extremists have taken to staging protests at, of all places, funerals. The move is prompting at least five midwestern states to consider a ban on such protests, respecting the grieving families their right to privacy. (Washington Post: 5 States Consider Bans On Protests at Funerals).

The group, lead by Rev. Fred Phelps and consisting mainly of his parishioners at Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas, claims that war casualties, mining accidents, and just about any other untimely death is God's wrath resulting from US tolerance for gays. I'll pause for a moment so you can think that one through.

That's right. Not only do we have the likes of Pat Robertson claiming to the world that Hurricane Katrina was God's punishment for sinful behavior, but now we have Phelps and his ilk staging protests at the memorial service for 12 miners killed in the West Virginia tragedy. There have always been crackpots like this, but is there a reason we must give them air time?

What concerns me, though, is the move by five states to ban protests at funerals. Don't get me wrong, I don't advocate protesting at emotionally charged, private events where grieving families are gathered. I do object to anything that tampers with the right of the people to peacefully assemble, however. That's the reason I never advocated law enforcement officials preventing Cindy Sheehan from staging her protests, as much as I disagree with her message and think she was hurting our troops. People have a right to protest and stage demonstrations, regardless of their point of view. What most people need to realize, though, is simply having the right to do something does not mean that you should do it.

I'm sure everyone agrees that there is a line that should not be crossed. I'm also positive that none of us will agree on where that line is. All I can tell you is that, as a constitutional originalist, I certainly do not want the government drawing that line. That means that we must put up with people like Reverend Phelps, regardless of how ridiculous his views may be, regardless of how tasteless his methods are, regardless of how insensitive and downright offensive his protests are.

That's the challenge of our Constitutional Rights. It's all too easy to demand "there ought to be a law" when we see this type of outrageous behavior. For those with common sense, it's easy to see that Phelps has clearly crossed the line and is abusing his First Amendment right to peacefully assemble. Unfortunately, any attempt to ban his nonsense weakens, not Phelps, but rather the Constitution of the United States.

As to what to do with Phelps, simply start your stopwatch. His fifteen minutes should be up shortly.



Alan Fraser said...

Phelps has been doing this for quite a few years and no-one has done anything. He's a mad dog and he's been at it for considerably more than 'fifteen minutes.' He's got a team of mutants working with him and he's easily one of the most vicious people on the planet. There's only one solution for Phelps: a bullet.

Draconis said...

One of the Westboro mutants appears to be in a wheelchair. Perhaps we need to ask why they have someone that God has so afflicted and is therefore washed in guilt belongs to such an organisation.

He without sin should cast the first stone, etc.