In a new post, DaveScot criticizes the ACLU for suing the state of Kentucky over a new law banning protests at military funerals. As usual, he gets the facts wrong and misses the point. The mistakes begin with the title of his post: “ACLU Supports Vile Protesters at Military Funerals.” Nonsense. They don’t support the protestors any more than they supported the Nazis in Skokie, or support Rush Limbaugh, or support Jerry Falwell. What they support is the idea of free speech, regardless of the content of that speech. And in this particular case, they aren’t challenging such regulations across the board, they’re challenging the particular wording of these regulations as being overly broad and prone to abuse. Are they right? I don’t know, I haven’t read the law in question. But I do know that it’s unreasonable to claim that they support the message rather than the right to give it.
My own feelings on such laws are very mixed. On the one hand, few things in the world make me more angry than Fred Phelps and his band of evil idiots. I despise them as thoroughly as humanly possible. If they showed up to protest at the funeral of someone I love, someone would likely have to pull me off one of them before I stopped swinging. But I’m also a staunch advocate of free speech, even when it is calculated to be as offensive as possible. And there is a middle ground, of course. One can be for time, place and manner restrictions and still support a general right to free speech. Intellectually, I’m not sure such restrictions are a good idea and I don’t know that I’d vote for them; on the other hand, I can’t get too fired up to fight against them either. So I’m willing to respect both sides on this one.
But here’s my question for Dave and those who criticize the ACLU for their position: where were you when Phelps and the rest of these jerks were just protesting the funerals of gay people? Years before they decided to protest military funerals, they were protesting at the funerals of gay people, holding signs that said, “God created AIDS” and yelling “Your son is in hell” to the parents of the deceased. And we heard not one peep from any of the people who are now so outraged at the protest of military funerals. Not a single law was passed or even suggested in any state legislature anywhere in the nation. And most of the laws that have been passed still single out only military funerals for such protection. Civilian funerals are still fair game in most states. I find such selective outrage quite telling, and highly hypocritical.
Also fascinating is the ignorance of the commenters. Mats writes:
Since when the ACLU stands for freedom of expression? What a sad joke.
The sad joke is how successfully the religious right has managed to thoroughly distort the record of the ACLU. They have always supported freedom of expression, including for Christians. I’ve listed and provided links to dozens of cases around the country where the ACLU has defended street preachers, churches, religious groups and students in cases where their rights were violated. In several cases, they’ve defended the rights of the very people who lie about their record (they’ve defended Jerry Falwell in court not once, but twice, yet Falwell still lies about their position constantly).