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.