Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Ill-Advised Law Against Vile Protests

Josh Claybourn passes along this link about a proposed law in Indiana that would make protesting at a military funeral a felony. There’s some background required to understand it though. It involves the infamous Rev. Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church, the cretins behind God Hates Fags. You will find no more loathsome people on the face of this planet than Phelps and his followers, most of whom are members of his own family. In the last couple years, Phelps’ cult of idiocy has been protesting at funerals of soldiers who died in Iraq, claiming that they were killed as God’s punishment for protecting a nation that tolerates gays. This has prompted Indiana State Sen. Brent Steele to propose changing the law to make such protests at a military funeral a felony. It’s an ill-advised law in more than one respect.

First, one has to wonder where these folks have been. Phelps has been doing this for well over a decade, protesting outside the funerals of gay people dozens of times. His followers carry signs that says that the deceased deserved to die because they’re a faggot and God hates fags, and they do so right outside the funeral home where people are grieving the loss of a loved one. I’ve never heard a politician suggest a law to stop them, but now that it involves military funerals, suddenly it’s an outrage? Soldiers aren’t worth any more as human beings than gay civilians are.

Second, as horrible and disgusting as these people are, they have a constitutional right to protest as long as they don’t trespass in the process. I know that’s terribly hurtful to the families. It makes my blood boil too. I’ll say this, though. We have a very narrowly drawn exception to the first amendment called the “fighting words” exception. When someone’s speech will inevitably cause a breach of the peace through its timing and manner, we make very narrow exceptions to the first amendment. But we can’t do this as a matter of prior restraint, only in hindsight. And in this circumstance, I think it applies.

I surely would not charge someone else with assault if they took a shot at these folks for protesting at the funeral of a loved one claiming that they deserved it. In fact, let me make it more personal than that. If these evil people had shown up to protest the funeral of my uncle, who died of AIDS, with signs saying he deserved to die…well, there would likely have been more funerals soon afterward. And I might well have gone to jail, but there’s no way I would have been able to stop myself. And I think this sort of situation is probably narrowly drawn enough that it’s justifiable for a jury, at least, to refuse to convict someone for reacting violently.

The government may not be able to punish them, but I sure as hell would. I’m not a violent man. I haven’t hit anyone since the 8th grade, and that was in self-defense. But that’s a line that, once crossed, would only result in bloodshed. Judge that however you’d like, I don’t much care. I’m just being honest.

Comments

  1. #1 KeithB
    October 25, 2005

    But Ed, let’s combine this entry with the previous one. Let Indiana pass the law and we can send Fred in to get arrested as a test case of the law.

    Then, oh, irony of ironies, the ACLU will probably be the only group willing to defend Fred. I can easily believe, like the NM case, no other conservative group will show up to bail ol’ Fred out…

  2. #2 Jim Apple
    October 25, 2005

    Judge that however you’d like, I don’t much care. I’m just being honest.

    That’s such bullshit.

    “I’m just being honest” is an easy excuse for anyone who promises anti-social behavior. The challenge for civilized humans is not to lie about how we will act, but to control our animal instincts enough so that we can honestly say, “I won’t kill someone who disagrees with, or even hates, me.”

    You promise to kill people who use words around you. Not threatening words, but words that surmise as to the motive of an invisible superhero who lives in space.

    There’s a world of difference between being rude and killing a rude person. If you can’t see that difference, I honestly don’t know how you get throught the day.

  3. #3 Ed Brayton
    October 25, 2005

    Jim-

    My honest reaction is *shrug*.

  4. #4 Jim Apple
    October 25, 2005

    You should wear a t-shirt advertising your propensity for violence–It’ll keep homophobes safe and you out of jail.

  5. #5 Pieter B
    October 25, 2005

    I’ve long been a critic of the worship of the American flag, and a firm supporter of the right to burn one, but it would be a very unwise move to attempt to burn one in my presence. Should I wear a “warning label” too, Jim?

  6. #6 Jim Apple
    October 25, 2005

    Yes, Pieter, you should.

    Grown-ups don’t beat up people who disagree with us. It can be frustrating, but it’s the price we pay for the right of free expression. You don’t get to win arguments by being stronger or having a bigger gun.

  7. #7 Jim Apple
    October 25, 2005

    And before someone gets on me about not distinguishing between government punishment of offensive speech and Ed-&-Pieter punishment of offensive speech, let me say that arguing for jury nullification of charges against those “defending” us from Phelps-a-likes is equivalent to banning the speech outright.

    It has the same chilling effect, only this time when you preach on a street corner, you’re watching out for blue bumper stickers rather than cop cars.

  8. #8 Pieter B
    October 25, 2005

    There wouldn’t be an argument. If someone was attempting to light an American flag on fire, I’d do my best to prevent it. Since there are very few flag-burnings in a given year, I think I may be safely allowed out of doors without a warning label. YMMV.

  9. #9 Ed Brayton
    October 25, 2005

    Jim Apple wrote:

    You should wear a t-shirt advertising your propensity for violence–It’ll keep homophobes safe and you out of jail.

    LOL. I don’t have a propensity for violence. As I said, I haven’t punched anyone since I was 13 years old, and that was in self-defense. I am the furthest thing from a violent person. And I’ve had people get me plenty angry in the last 25 years. But everyone has buttons that could push them to violence. If you were walking down the street and someone was following you down the street calling your wife a whore, I’m guessing you’d probably end up taking a punch at them. That’s not horrible and evil, it’s human and justifiable. If they showed up at your wife’s funeral and waved protest signs calling her a whore and saying she deserved to die, do you really think you could avoid going after them? If so, you’re not a human being you’re an automaton.

  10. #10 Jim Apple
    October 25, 2005

    Since there are very few flag-burnings in a given year, I think I may be safely allowed out of doors without a warning label.

    Well, since you agree that political arguments can lead you to violence, are you sure nothing else more common will set you off?

    I was thinking of a broadly worded warning, lik e”If I disagree with you strongly enough, I may kill you,” at least, for Ed, who promises that he would actually murder someone.

  11. #11 Jim Apple
    October 25, 2005

    If so, you’re not a human being you’re an automaton.

    Another argument tactic I can’t understand. “If you’re not like me, you aren’t human!” No, Ed, I don’t think I would attack someone who yells at me; at least, I hope I wouldn’t. I’m not perfect, but I acknowledge violent acts as detrimental to society, and if I were the perpatrator, I hope I would feel sorry.

    I certainly don’t go about proclaiming proudly that I would resort to violence.

    If we allow jury nullification of “reasonable” violence, then justice means something very different in Mississippi and Michigan.

  12. #12 Ed Brayton
    October 25, 2005

    Jim-

    Well, you are welcome to your disapproval. It changes nothing and, frankly, means nothing. Feel free to think I’m the worst human being in the world if it makes you feel more righteous.

  13. #13 Jim Apple
    October 25, 2005

    Feel free to think I’m the worst human being in the world if it makes you feel more righteous.

    I’m not trying to feel righteous, Ed, I’m trying to convince you not to go apeshit on anyone with a “Santorum/Keyes ’08” sign in their yard.

  14. #14 Jim Apple
    October 25, 2005

    Furthermore, I don’t think you’re a bad person, I just disagree with you about this issue.

  15. #15 Pieter B
    October 25, 2005

    AUTHOR: Pieter B
    EMAIL:
    IP: 198.176.189.201
    URL:
    DATE: 10/25/2005 06:39:20 PM

  16. #16 Pieter B
    October 25, 2005

    oh — it’s one of those sites that won’t left one to fake tags. OK.

    [PLONK]

  17. #17 Pieter B
    October 25, 2005

    left one to = let one do

  18. #18 Ed Brayton
    October 25, 2005

    Jim Apple wrote:

    I’m not trying to feel righteous, Ed, I’m trying to convince you not to go apeshit on anyone with a “Santorum/Keyes ’08” sign in their yard.

    Oh for crying out loud, go away. I didn’t say anything like that. I’ve known plenty of homophobes in my life. There is a HUGE difference between someone being anti-gay (which I don’t like, but it’s not evil) and going to the funeral of a gay person with protest signs saying they deserve it because they’re a fag. That is evil. Anyone who would do that is almost certainly going to get their ass kicked, and if it was the funeral of someone I loved I’d almost certainly be the one doing it. There is a world of difference between holding an opinion I don’t like and going out of your way to torment someone at the height of their suffering over the death of a loved one. For crying out loud, if you can’t see that you are fucking clueless.

  19. #19 KeithB
    October 25, 2005

    I guess I am an automaton then – I am extremely non-confrontational and not very emotional. I think Robert Heinlein was that way, too. In one of Lazarus Long’s notebooks he says something like: A wise man is never insulted. If someone tells you the truth, deal with it, if it is not true it is beneath notice.

  20. #20 whackamole
    October 25, 2005

    Also, Ed, don’t forget that the Phelps clan relies on assault via pushing people’s buttons to rake in money as well. Losing your cool is just playing into their hands.

  21. #21 Jim Apple
    October 26, 2005

    There is a HUGE difference between someone being anti-gay (which I don’t like, but it’s not evil) and going to the funeral of a gay person with protest signs . . . if you can’t see that you are fucking clueless.

    I think the former is evil as well. Yes, it’s not as evil, but it’s still evil.

    Since I think hating gay people is evil, if I were to adopt your policies, then, I would have to kill most of my state.

    Yes, there is clearly a difference between them, but in that difference lies a spectrum of behavior, none of which should be punished by a murder via Ed. This includes

    • * Preaching that gay people go to hell
    • * in a church across the street from the funeral
    • * in the church your uncle went to as a child
    • * in a political campaign

    Who decides which of those you get to shoot? A Michigan jury? A Mississippi jury?

    What should the law be that forfeits the life of some protesters but not others? All protesters believe they will offend someone; this is why they protest. Which ones do we allow you to kill?

    “Oh for crying out loud, go away.”

    Hey, it’s your website. If you don’t want me here anymore, I won’t be here.

    Adios.

  22. #22 raj
    October 26, 2005

    Arrested at protesting at the funeral of a dead soldier? This is ridiculous. I sincerely doubt that the protestors would be protesting anything other than the war, using the funeral as a backdrop for their protest.

    I’d give credence to the Bushies when they start arresting the Phelpses et al for protesting at the funerals of gay people. They will not, so I don’t.

  23. #23 Maldoror
    October 26, 2005

    I don´t know you very well Ed, excep for what I´ve seen in this blog and on IRC in many years. And to your credit, I don´t believe you will end up shooting even bastards like Phelps protesting a funeral of your loved ones…not that they do not deserve to be shoot (I´ll tell ya, I will shoot them ), but I doubt you will end up doing so…you are to much a nice guy to do that. :)

  24. #24 Raging Bee
    October 26, 2005

    Jim Apple: if it is indeed wrong to verbally torment people in their time of grief (i.e., at a funeral), or to goad or provoke a person via unending insults, would it not be right to punish such behavior by means of a beating followed by a universal response of “Well, what did you expect?” If I needlessly insulted a biker, and got my ass kicked for it, I would have no choice but to conclude that I had brought such violence on myself; which is one reason I don’t go about insulting strangers. That’s probably also why strangers don’t go out of their way to harass me. Thus the mutual threat of violence brings a measure of civil peace.

    Provocative behavior is wrong precisely because it is provocative, and can easily provoke an otherwise non-violent person to lose control and do something he/she would not otherwise do. To say that a certain behavior is wrong, but then to ridicule those who get justifiably angry at it, is, in effect, to condone the original offending behavior, at least in some circumstances.

    Your pacifist logic very easily becomes the logic of the bully.

  25. #25 maurile
    October 26, 2005

    Second, as horrible and disgusting as these people are, they have a constitutional right to protest as long as they don’t trespass in the process.

    As far as I can tell, the proposed law wouldn’t make anything illegal that isn’t already illegal. It would just convert disorderly conduct that is currently a misdemeanor into a felony if it occurs at a military funeral. (There’s already a provision converting disorderly conduct to a felony if it occurs at an airport; I imagine the proposed bill would essentially just add “or military funeral” to “airport”.)

    Indiana’s disorderly conduct statute currently reads:

    Disorderly conduct
    Sec. 3. A person who recklessly, knowingly, or intentionally:
    (1) engages in fighting or in tumultuous conduct;
    (2) makes unreasonable noise and continues to do so after being asked to stop; or
    (3) disrupts a lawful assembly of persons;
    commits disorderly conduct, a Class B misdemeanor. However, the offense is a Class D felony if it adversely affects airport security and is committed in an airport (as defined in IC 8-21-1-1) or on the premises of an airport, including in a parking area, a maintenance bay, or an aircraft hangar.

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