Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Why Care Only About Military Deaths?

Jay at STACLU is upset that the ACLU filed suit in Kentucky over a state law restricting the right to protest at military funerals, a bill aimed solely at Fred Phelps and his gang of the insane and idiotic. A Federal judge just overturned that law. But look at the way Jay frames the issue:

How would you feel if your child gave their life in military service to protect our freedoms and as you attended their funeral to mourn and remember their sacrifice and life lunatic cultists were in your face with signs reading “God Hates Fags” and “Thank God For Body Bags?” Wouldn’t you want a little space? Wouldn’t you feel that your rights were being infringed upon in some way? Well, the freaks of “Westboro Baptist Church” do just that. They seek out military funerals to blast their political message that the deaths of U.S. servicemen and servicewomen in Iraq is God’s punishment for an immoral America and its acceptance of gays. No matter how much of a free speech absolutist you are, you would probably want some space from this cult spewing its hate.

But here’s the thing: long before Phelps was protesting military funerals, he was protesting the funerals of gays and lesbians all over the country, spewing the same hate. And did we hear a peep from the religious right about it? Not a word. Did we see a single state legislature take up a bill to ban that? Of course not. But the argument he makes above applies just as well.

How would you feel if your child died and his funeral was protested by barbaric thugs screaming anti-gay bigotry because your son or daughter was gay? Wouldn’t you feel like you wanted some space from those vile people and their hatred? I sure would (which does not, of course, mean that the law is constitutional; we base such decisions on logic, not emotion). So why do we only hear such outrage when it comes to military funerals? Because, obviously, the right generally thinks that a solider is worth more than a gay person, even if the soldier is a vile human being (as many are) and the gay person is a wonderful human being (as many are).

They looked the other way for years while Phelps did his thing against gays and did not say a word against him. The moment he turned his vile hatred toward soldiers, all of a sudden it’s an unholy outrage and must be stopped. Personally, I’m torn on this one. I think a solid argument can be made that such protests cross the line from free speech into harrassment and intentional infliction of emotional pain at a person’s most vulnerable point. I know that if they were to show up at a funeral of someone I love, the police would likely need to protect them from me rather than the other way around.

On the other hand, as a consistent civil libertarian, I am concerned about blurring that line between speech and crime, even when the speech makes my blood boil as it does here. On balance, I think such laws are a bad idea despite my strong emotional preference that such people be shut up (or worse). On the whole, I think we’re better off allowing such expression and countering it with our own speech (as in the case of military funerals, where a group of bikers has taken to following the Phelps cult around and getting in between them and the funeral mourners – and good for them).

But I’d like to see the same concern for the humanity of gays and lesbians that I see for soldiers here. All parents grieve the loss of a child with equal suffering, whether that child died in a war or from cancer or from some bat-wielding thug at a gay pride rally. Phelps’ actions are an assault on their humanity regardless of whether their child was a soldier or an accountant or a dance teacher. If we’re going to protest this vile behavior, then let’s be consistent. The family of a gay man or woman is no less deserving of our sympathy and our protection of their dignity than the family of a marine.

Comments

  1. #1 dogscratcher
    September 28, 2006

    Instead of making new laws that clearly infringe on the free-speech rights of Phelps, could his protests be shut down under the “inciting a riot” laws? I know I’d riot if it were at a funeral of anyone I know.

  2. #2 Coin
    September 28, 2006

    How would you feel if

    Well, geez, while I don’t see any funeral as an appropriate target for protest, somehow I don’t think anyone is really committed to free speech if they are willing to change their opinion on whether expression should be protected depending on how it makes them feel.

  3. #3 Pierre Bezukhoz
    September 28, 2006

    “even if the soldier is a vile human being (as many are)”

    I generally enjoy reading your blog, but many U.S. soldiers are vile human beings? While no doubt there are vile human beings in the military, I think it is unfair to describe “many” soldiers that way.

  4. #4 Raging Bee
    September 28, 2006

    Disrupting someone else’s funeral is a violation of the mourners’ right to free speech, peaceful assembly, and freedom of religion (to the extent that funerals are religious rituals). It’s that simple. “Freedom of speech” does not mean freedom to bully others at private gatherings. There is no more right to disrupt a funeral than there is to disrupt the rituals of another’s religion.

    We’re all perfectly free to express our opinions in a wide variety of times and places. Protecting funerals from disruption is NOT a significant reduction of that freedom.

    On the whole, I think we’re better off allowing such expression and countering it with our own speech…

    A funeral is a one-time affair. Once it’s been ruined by outsiders, it can’t be done over, and “countering it with our own speech” doesn’t even work as a band-aid.

  5. #5 Coin
    September 28, 2006

    Raging Bee, I could find such an argument persuasive. However I don’t think I can see the reasoning behind banning protests at some funerals but not others.

    In the meantime, I’m curious whether this law or one like it could have withstood judicial review if it had simply been constructed differently. Looking at an AP article about the suspension of the law– which has only been suspended temporarily pending legal action, not struck down– the judge’s reasoning appears to have been that the law “is too broad to serve its intended purpose, the judge said. ‘The zone is large enough that it would restrict communications intended for the general public on a matter completely unrelated to the funeral as well as messages targeted at funeral participants,’ Caldwell wrote in a 37-page ruling issued in Frankfort.”

    I generally enjoy reading your blog, but many U.S. soldiers are vile human beings? While no doubt there are vile human beings in the military, I think it is unfair to describe “many” soldiers that way.

    I think that if you look at his complete sentence instead of that just one snippet of it, his clear intent was to express the opinion that soldiers are human beings and homosexuals are also human beings, and many human beings are vile and many human beings are wonderful.

  6. #6 Raging Bee
    September 28, 2006

    …However I don’t think I can see the reasoning behind banning protests at some funerals but not others.

    I don’t see it either — it’s sure as hell not part of MY reasoning. I’m for a ban on ALL disruption of ALL funerals; and I think it a sad commentary on our society that such a law has to be made at all.

  7. #7 kemibe
    September 28, 2006

    “I generally enjoy reading your blog, but many U.S. soldiers are vile human beings?”

    When Ed wrote “even if the soldier is a vile human being (as many are),” he may have meant for the parenthetical clause to refer to human beings in general, not specifically to soldiers.

  8. #8 Bob
    September 28, 2006

    Not much to add, but an interesting footnote is that the Phelps gang even protested at Barry Goldwater’s funeral.

  9. #9 Will
    September 28, 2006

    Well, there could be a law allowing a funeral attendee to punch a Phelpsist square in the face if they show up at a funeral. That would take care of the free speech issue.

    Of course, I personally wouldn’t wait for a law.

  10. #10 Ginger Yellow
    September 28, 2006

    But here’s the thing: long before Phelps was protesting military funerals, he was protesting the funerals of gays and lesbians all over the country, spewing the same hate. And did we hear a peep from the religious right about it? Not a word. Did we see a single state legislature take up a bill to ban that? Of course not. But the argument he makes above applies just as well.

    Silly Ed. Service guarantees citizenship. They’re doing their part. Are you?

  11. #11 Jay
    September 28, 2006

    Ed, you are out of line. I’m not only against protests at military funerals. I am against protests at anyone’s funeral. Take it elsewhere and respect other people’s rights. These freak’s rights end where other people’s begin. Thanks for trying to make me look me look like I’m not against protesting at gay’s funerals. You might be surprised but I don’t hate gays and don’t appreciate you making me out that way. You didn’t hear a peep from me about this cult before because I hadn’t heard about them before. I will restate, I am against protests at anyone’s funeral.

  12. #12 Ed Brayton
    September 28, 2006

    Pierre wrote:

    I generally enjoy reading your blog, but many U.S. soldiers are vile human beings? While no doubt there are vile human beings in the military, I think it is unfair to describe “many” soldiers that way.

    Why? There are approximately 1.3 million people in the US military. Given the ratio of vile people in the general population, I imagine there are, at a bare minimum, tens of thousands of people I would describe in that manner in the military. The military is no different than any other large group, it will inevitably contain a lot of assholes.

  13. #13 Ed Brayton
    September 28, 2006

    Jay-

    I’m glad to hear you’re against such protests at gay funerals too. But I think it’s quite interesting that we heard hardly a word from the religious right and no attempts at all to ban the practice over the many years when they were protesting gay funerals using the same appalling tactics. It’s not as though they didn’t get any media coverage for it, there was plenty. But not a single legislator in any state said a word about it or tried to ban it until the last couple years when they started targetting military funerals – at which point there was an enormous outcry and a couple dozen states passed such laws in a matter of weeks. And the fact is, they’re still protesting gay funerals, yet most of the state laws that have been passed apply to military funerals only. So there clearly is a double standard going on here all over the nation, and it’s certainly worth pointing it out. Indeed, if you were opposed to such protests, why mention only the military part in your articles? Why not also mention that the same group protests gay funerals and that’s just as bad?

  14. #14 jba
    September 28, 2006

    I really dont think that stopping people from loudly and crassly protesting things, ANYTHING, at a funeral is an attack on freedom of speech. All freedoms come with restrictions, its the nature of the beast. Its a democracy, not anarchy. You cant just do what you want, when you want. I think one of the main problems in this country right now is that everyone seems to think that they have the right to ignore the rights of others.

  15. #15 Pierre Bezukhoz
    September 28, 2006

    Ed Brayton wrote: (I don’t know the HTML taggy things for this)

    Why? There are approximately 1.3 million people in the US military. Given the ratio of vile people in the general population, I imagine there are, at a bare minimum, tens of thousands of people I would describe in that manner in the military. The military is no different than any other large group, it will inevitably contain a lot of assholes.
    ________________________________________________________

    I completely agree.

    But under those circumstances wouldn’t it be appropriate to also point out that there are “many” people who are homosexuals who are undoubtedly vile? And “many” people who are soldiers who are undoubtedly “wonderful”? Don’t get me wrong. I think there are “vile” people who are soldiers and “wonderful” people who are homosexuals, but your article has put the two groups into opposition by comparison. “Many” vile soldiers whose funerals are potentially protested versus “many” wonderful homosexuals whose funderals are potentially protested. How loosely or strictly are you defining “many” in terms of vile people who are soldiers versus wonderful people who are homosexuals?

    On this point, I think it’s a case of unclear writing.

    (Again. I do enjoy your blog, read it almost daily and often agree with you.)

  16. #16 Ed Brayton
    September 28, 2006

    Pierre-

    No, I really don’t think I need to spell out every possible designation for people in every group. My readers are smart enough to understand that on their own. Of course there are terrible gay people out there, just as there are terrible people in every group. The point I was trying to make, and it seemed obvious enough to me, was that people were showing concern for one group solely because they were soldiers, regardless of what terrible people they might be as individuals, while ignoring the exact same behavior when aimed at gays, no matter how wonderful they might be as individuals. You want to protest at Fred Phelps’ funeral? No problem in my book. The guy is a repulsive human being and deserves every possible bad thing that could be said about him. But that’s judged on an individual basis, not by his identification with a group. But to protest gays just because they’re gay is absurd. And to believe that every military person deserves protection from having bad things about them is equally absurd. You want to protest at the funeral of the soldiers who raped that 14 year old girl in Iraq and set her on fire? Hell, I’ll be right next to you to spit on his grave. But do it based on their individual actions. That was my point and I think everyone understood that.

  17. #17 Pierre Bezukhoz
    September 28, 2006

    Oh, I understood it and agree with the gist of the article. I just thought it was sloppy writing. That’s all.

  18. #18 meatbrain
    September 28, 2006

    Jay wrote:

    “I’m not only against protests at military funerals. I am against protests at anyone’s funeral.”

    That’s not what you said in the post, Jay. Your entire concern was focussed on miltary funerals, and only military funerals. There is no doubt in my mind that you never considered that it would be wrong for the Phelps cult to protest at the funeral of a gay person until Ed called you on this.

    As usual, Jay, your feeble excuses are too little, too late.

  19. #19 Grumpy
    September 28, 2006

    Figures. The ACLU goes to court on behalf of a church, and they still get grief about it.

  20. #20 James
    September 28, 2006

    I’m a little unclear on this. Most funerals aren’t public events, and there has never been any question that private individuals can put any number of restrictions on events that take place in private.

    A little checking reveals that the Kentucky law was exceedingly vague, and could have been applied to anyone anywhere near the funeral, including anyone standing on a public sidewalk. So all the imaginary scenarios here about (I’m guessing, based on the fistfight fantasies) protests at the gravesite look to be misdirected. If someone tries to do something like that at the service itself, you could have security remove them, with or without the anti-protest law.

    Also, the ACLU action was filed on behalf of an individual, not the church in question.

  21. #21 Lettuce
    September 28, 2006

    raging bee says:

    Disrupting someone else’s funeral is a violation of the mourners’ right to free speech, peaceful assembly, and freedom of religion (to the extent that funerals are religious rituals). It’s that simple

    It’s not that simple. not close.

    Fred Phelps, as odious as he is, has a right to practive his religion. He has a right to peaceably assemble and he has the right to free specch. As do the thugs that follow him.

    Fred Phelps is not Congress, it’s really not possible for him to deny others free speech ro freedom of religion by exercising his.

    Your mileage will vary on the meaning of peacably assemble. I take it to me most everything short of violence or imminent threats of violence.

    The Westboro Baptist Church stands for everything I’m against, but they still have the right to assemble in public areas are express that.

  22. #22 Roger Tang
    September 28, 2006

    The Westboro Baptist Church stands for everything I’m against, but they still have the right to assemble in public areas are express that.

    Even if they are so loud that they disturb someone NOT in a public area?

  23. #23 Keanus
    September 28, 2006

    I’m a volunteer escort for a Planned Parenthood clinic and encounter pickets, whose actions, words, and signs are described by many as vile. They are compelled by long standing court orders to restrict their presence to public property only. One job of an escort is to see that they do without engaging in shouting matches or physical contact. Their impact on the women patients is often visible and wrenching. But they do have a right to express their views on the public sidewalk. The same rules apply to the Phelps clan. The may congregate outside a church or near the entrance to a cemetery, but, if the cemetery is private (and not municipal), I would think they could be prohibited from entering the cemetery grounds. And were they to use amplification (and I don’t know if they do or don’t) they could be open to misdemeanor charges for noise, if an anti-noise ordinance exists. As unpleasant as it can be, free speech means free speech even for the msot vile among us, especially in a society that takes its free speech seriously.

  24. #24 Russell Claus
    September 28, 2006

    I’ve thought about this issue ALOT in the past couple of months and although I am an ACLU member I really, REALLY want to ban protests at funerals…all funerals. I do, but I can’t bring myself to justify it on grounds other than I want to. And unfortunately (no fortunately) I don’t let my gut decide (sorry Colbert). So with that said, on principle, I would have to say we should allow them as long as they are quiet. Kudos to the lawyers who represent them, because I don’t know how I could be in the same room as those people. The saddest part about this is that as a society we’re forced into this debate. Why can’t the crazy fundies do something useful like they used too – mass suicides. Nothing like a good’ol Heaven’s Gate cult to warm my heart to the power of reason.

  25. #25 Russell Claus
    September 29, 2006

    Ed,

    I think you misstepped by antagonizing Jay. He seemed to be genuinely extending a olive branch on this issue (albeit a short one) and rather than accept it you spun it back and shoved it in his face. I enjoy your writing, but I think you came across as rude, and YES I hold YOU to a higher standard than Jay. But then again, I try to hold myself to a higher standard than the people I disagree with as well. I fail more often than not out of anger and frustration, but that’s the standard we collectively should try to uphold.

    I am willing to give Jay the benefit of the doubt that he had never heard of the Mr. Phelps prior to the military protests, because I had never heard of them prior to that.

    Regardless, you do not need to convince the vast majority of the readers of your blog about the rightness of your position…we already agree with you. Some actual good may be accomplished though, if you, me, all of us can politely reason with someone. I would hope that all us who regularly read your blog and are engaged by the material – then we are morally responsible to do SOMETHING about it, changing hearts and changing minds. I hate sounding like an evangelist here, but I’m not content to just bleet and nod at how right we are and how silly they are. I want Jay to understand that I want to ban the damn protests probably as much as he does. But simply because I WANT to do something is not the guiding force of whether I feel we SHOULD d do something. We have principles of free speech, freedom of assembly, of diffusing hate speech by NOT banning it that trump gut reactions to it.

    I want change and Ed, I know you do too.

  26. #26 Rieux
    September 29, 2006

    Even if they are so loud that they disturb someone NOT in a public area?

    Many municipalities have noise ordinances that ban noise above a certain decibel level. If the WBC protests exceed such a level, they can be (and I’m sure they are) cited for violating those ordinances, which have the salutary quality of being viewpoint neutral.

    I find it faintly stunning that, in the face of the First Amendment, so many people are willing to ban inconvenient expression because it “disturbs someone.” If that’s anything more than a reference to the noise level, the First is a joke.

    I fear that Americans don’t actually belive in free speech.

    “jba”‘s post, for example, is a study in ignorant cliche:

    I really dont think that stopping people from loudly and crassly protesting things, ANYTHING, at a funeral is an attack on freedom of speech. All freedoms come with restrictions, its the nature of the beast. Its a democracy, not anarchy. You cant just do what you want, when you want. I think one of the main problems in this country right now is that everyone seems to think that they have the right to ignore the rights of others.

    Oy.

    1. As James notes above, the Kentucky law at issue does not merely reach “protesting things … at a funeral,” if by “at” you mean on the private property of a funeral home, a place of worship, etc. That’s already well covered by this little thing called “trespassing.” The law is indeed entirely (and thus unconstitutionally) vague; the protests it bans are not “at” but in fact well outside the funerals in question.

    2. “Crassly”? What in the hell business do you think the government has determining whether speech is “crass”?

    3. “All freedoms come with restrictions”–nice cliche. There are indeed limits on the freedom of speech. They are few in number, specific and narrowly drawn, lest they swallow up free speech entirely. I defy you to name a single one of them. Here’s a hint: “crassness” and emotional offensiveness are not legally permissible limitations on the freedom of speech.

    The fact that minimal limits exist doesn’t justify wannabe censors like you inventing more.

    4. Its a democracy, not anarchy. You cant just do what you want, when you want.

    Spare us. Defending a basic human (and constitutional) right is not “anarchy.” No one relevant to this discussion is advocating anything of the kind. The pigheaded stupidity of this particular (all too common) false bifurcation is tiresome.

    5. I think one of the main problems in this country right now is that everyone seems to think that they have the right to ignore the rights of others.

    I think a much bigger problem in this country is folks like yourself who think that (1) you have a “right” not to be exposed to speech you find “crass” and (2) the government should enforce that “right” of yours.

    Ugh.

  27. #27 Martin
    September 29, 2006

    Fred Phelps is pretty old (77 according to Wikipedia). I cannot WAIT until he dies. It’s going to be a free-for-all.

    BTW, the freedom of speech is not absolute. Even though no kind of speech or particular message can be silenced per se, there are particular forums where it can be silenced (everyone is familiar with some of the more famous examples). That’s why many cities get away with ordnances against cursing, even though we have constitutional protections on free speech. There are times and places where you can curse, and there are times and places where you can protest.

  28. #28 raj
    September 29, 2006

    I don’t know the actual text of the KY law involved in the case, but it is the fact that government can make reasonable time, place and manner restrictions on activities that constitute “speech” as long as the restrictions are content neutral. It may be that the KY law was not content neutral, and that is the basis for the ACLU’s objection to it. I suppose that KY could, for example, impose a restriction that forbade carrying of signs or use of amplification devices within “X” feet of a funeral during the funeral, and maybe an hour or so before and/or after the funeral, providing the restriction was content neutral.

    Here in Massachusetts, there is a law forbidding sidewalk demonstrations within some distance of the entrance to womens’ health clinics (sometimes referred to as “abortion clinics”). The law is content neutral–for example, it forbids not only demonstrations by anti-abortion protestors and also pro-choice counter-protestors–and that is why the law has survived 1st amendment challenges.

  29. #29 Will
    September 29, 2006

    Oh, I understood it and agree with the gist of the article. I just thought it was sloppy writing. That’s all.

    Or was it poor reading and comprehension skills?

  30. #30 Pierre Bezukhov
    September 29, 2006

    Will wrote:

    Or was it poor reading and comprehension skills?
    _________________________________________________

    No, it wasn’t. But your antagonism
    is greatly appreciated.

  31. #31 Kate
    September 29, 2006

    Russel, two points;

    1. the Phelps are their own lawyers in most cases. Fred has raised a whold family of hate-filled bigots who are willing to do anything to get the attention he craves. I seem to remember that at least 3 of his progeny passed the bar (I can’t find a good reference for numbers but it is repeatedly mentioned that “many” of the phelps clan are lawyers)

    2. Just because you haven’t heard of phelps before now(ish), it makes no sense to believe that others haven’t. I have been hearing about him since he launched his “god hates fags” webpage (humorously countered by http://www.godhatesshrimp.com ). In this I wouldn’t even give jay the benefit of the doubt, partially because I hold those who “report” on issues like this to a higher standard. If he’s going to talk about the people protesting at funerals, he damn well had better do a little background on them and see how long they’ve been around and what other schemes they have been up to (and are still up to).

  32. #32 jba
    September 29, 2006

    Rieux,
    I knew as soon as I hit post that I had phrased my position very poorly. I am new to this style of discussion and am not very good at making my opinions clear. I am a firm believer in freedom of speech. I find it interesting that you think you have learned so many things about me from one thing that I said. Now I know many people are going to think Im backpedaling, but Im not. I think that people should be able to mourn in peace, period. And from everything I have seen of Phelps he keeps them from doing that. Im not saying he shouldnt be able to say what he says, Im saying he shouldnt be able to interfere with funerals. Like I said before, Im new to this kind of thing, I have never taken a debate class or anything like that and am not very good at expressing myself. So heres another nice cliche for you: you dont know me, dont judge me.

  33. #33 Alex
    September 29, 2006

    2. Just because you haven’t heard of phelps before now(ish), it makes no sense to believe that others haven’t. I have been hearing about him since he launched his “god hates fags” webpage (humorously countered by http://www.godhatesshrimp.com ).

    He got a quite lot of press for protesting at Matthew Shepard’s funeral as well – I think that’s when most average Americans first heard of him.

    One tactic that the gay commmunity has used with some success against the Phelps clan is to hold a fundraiser. If you know he’s coming, you pick some charity diametrically opposed to Phelps’ hateful views and get people to pledge money ahead of time for each minute of Phelps’ presence. It’s non-confrontational, but everyone there knows that every minute of Phelps’ spewing does more good than harm – after all words don’t really hurt, but money pledged towards a pediatric AIDS fund or a fund for the widowed spouses of soldiers does real good.

  34. #34 gary l. day
    September 29, 2006

    The basic question is–are funerals public or private gatherings? Different principles of free speech apply. The courts need to make a definition, otherwise debating this issue from either side is presumptive and premature.

  35. #35 Russell Claus
    September 29, 2006

    Alex,

    That idea of pledging money for every minute they protest is brilliant. Set up a little running meter in front of them that way they can see just how much money they are contributing toward fighting AIDS, aiding war widows/widowers, or something else that they would find despicable.

  36. #36 Raging Bee
    September 29, 2006

    Fred Phelps is not Congress, it’s really not possible for him to deny others free speech ro freedom of religion by exercising his.

    “Really not possible” my ass. If you disrupt private, voluntary gatherings and rituals to which you are not invited, you are denying them their right to free speech and peacable assembly (“peacable assembly” meaning “free of harassment or interference” as well as “free to invite or exclude whomever they want”), reagrdless of what Congress says.

    So you’re saying it’s perfectly okay for, say, Christian thugs to go about harassing Pagans in public spaces, and disrupting Pagan rituals, as long as they’re not acting in any “official” capacity? (Yes, it’s been done.) I’m sure the fundie bigots, who delight in portraying themselves as helpless innocent little lambs of God, would love to have you as a spokesperson. You’ve certainly got their “We’re helpless little lambs so it’s perfectly okay for us to bully everyone else” routine down well.

    Fred Phelps, as odious as he is, has a right to practive his religion. He has a right to peaceably assemble and he has the right to free specch. As do the thugs that follow him.

    You mean we Pagans have the right to shout down stupid Christian ministers in their own churches? KEWL! Oh wait, they’d have the right to shout down our rituals too, and they’re louder than we are. NOT KEWL!

    What about the people who gather for the funerals he disrupts? Are they not exercising their right to peaceful assembly? Do they not have the right to practice their religion’s prescribed funeral rites and say nice things about the deceased without being hounded?

    …Their impact on the women patients is often visible and wrenching. But they do have a right to express their views on the public sidewalk. The same rules apply to the Phelps clan.

    The women you escort have the right to be on public property (such as sidewalks) without being harassed by anyone else; that’s the definition of “public space.” I and a homeless drunk both have an equal right to be on a public sidewalk; but neither of us has any right to bully or harass the other on said sidewalk, or shout obscenities in the other’s face. There’s a difference between expressing oneself and harassing others, and anyone who can’t see the difference needs a good lesson in manners — and possibly remedial potty-training as well.

    The may congregate outside a church or near the entrance to a cemetery, but, if the cemetery is private (and not municipal), I would think they could be prohibited from entering the cemetery grounds.

    Even if the cemetary is publicly-owned (like Arlington National), permission to bury one there includes the implicit promise that the mourners may conduct their burial rites there without interference, provided they don’t interfere with anyone else doing the same thing. Besides, this double standard means that some people have the right to have funerals undisturbed, and others don’t.

    3. “All freedoms come with restrictions”–nice cliche. There are indeed limits on the freedom of speech. They are few in number, specific and narrowly drawn, lest they swallow up free speech entirely. I defy you to name a single one of them.

    Slander, libel, defamation, revealing others’ private information in public forums, blowing state secrets, violating confidentiality, inciting to riot, creating a clear and present danger of violence or lawlessness, contributing to delinquency of minors, “fighting words,” invasive phone calls, interfering with other people’s legitimate business in public places, and falsely shouting “Snakes!” in crowded airplanes. Furthermore, cops are routinely expected to break up arguments and disperse crowds that are reasonably judged to obstruct public traffic or pose a threat to civil peace. Is that enough examples for you?

    I think a much bigger problem in this country is folks like yourself who think that (1) you have a “right” not to be exposed to speech you find “crass” and (2) the government should enforce that “right” of yours.

    Your statements are not only needlessly insulting, Rieux, they’re either ignorant or dishonest. The issue here is not “crass” speech, it’s speech that is deliberately used to harass and interfere with others’ exercise of their basic rights. Of course, given your tone, you probably can’t see the difference. (Do you still think your parents are “fascists” because they made you say “please” and “thank you?”) And don’t presume to lecture us about our own country’s laws. Has yours done better?

    “Freedom of speech” does not mean, and has never been believed to mean, freedom from the rules of basic civility. Nor are such rules in conflict with freedom — in fact, they’re necessary to make freedom of any sort work. Freedom is not secured merely by its exercise; it’s also secured by mutual self-restraint and respect for the equal freedom of others.

  37. #37 MJ Memphis
    September 29, 2006

    “So you’re saying it’s perfectly okay for, say, Christian thugs to go about harassing Pagans in public spaces, and disrupting Pagan rituals, as long as they’re not acting in any “official” capacity?”

    It depends how you define “harass”. If you are really in a *public* space, then they have the same right to use of it as you do- you, as a private group/entity, do not have the right to make anyone else sit down and shut up in a public space because their speech offends you. On the other hand, if you are on private property, then you can eject them if they are harassing you or have them arrested if they refuse to leave.

    “You mean we Pagans have the right to shout down stupid Christian ministers in their own churches?”

    Their churches would be private property, not public space. If you went in to shout them down, they would have the right to tell you to leave, and to have you arrested for trespassing if you don’t. Now, if the ministers were giving sermons in the middle of the sidewalk, you would have the right to protest them.

    “”Freedom of speech” does not mean, and has never been believed to mean, freedom from the rules of basic civility.”

    What are these “rules of basic civility” and who gets to decide them?

  38. #38 Ed Brayton
    September 29, 2006

    As I said in my post, I think there’s a reasonable argument to be made in favor of such restrictions, as long as they are content-neutral and narrowly tailored. However, I don’t find that argument convincing in the end. I still come down on the side of maximum liberty, even the liberty to do something I find absolutely appalling. To some extent, this is contradictory on my part. If they were to show up at a funeral for someone I care about, my acknowledgement on an intellectual level that they have a right to do so probably wouldn’t stop me from bumrushing the bastards and punching the first one I could get ahold of until someone dragged me off him. Nor would I be particularly bothered if someone else did the same thing at one of these funerals (and to be honest, I’m absolutely amazed it hasn’t happened yet). But that’s an emotional reaction, however understandable and human, and we shouldn’t base policy decisions on those kinds of feelings.

  39. #39 Raging Bee
    September 29, 2006

    MJ Memphis wrote:

    If you are really in a *public* space, then they have the same right to use of it as you do…

    The right to use public space does not include the right to hinder others’ lawful use of the same space. Furthermore, if we recognize such a right, we effectively nullify the right to use public space. A right that a bully can take away with impunity is not a right; and your freedom of speech does not cancel anyone else’s. I really can’t see why this is such a hard point for anyone to comprehend.

    …you, as a private group/entity, do not have the right to make anyone else sit down and shut up in a public space because their speech offends you.

    Tell that to Phelps — this is exactly the “right” he’s trying to exercise: the right to shout down others and make them listen to his deliberately hurtful rhetoric, rather than simply avoid the funerals of people he doesn’t like (which is what I plan to do when Phelps dies).

    Phelps and his dememted family aren’t being “forced” to pay respects to people they don’t respect; they’re perfectly free to avoid those funerals altogether, and express their views in a WIDE variety of other venues and times.

    If you interpret “allowing others to express themselves in an orderly fashion, without harassment from strangers” as “being forced to sit down and shut up in a public space” then you have a serious problem with boundaries and interpersonal conduct.

    What are these “rules of basic civility” and who gets to decide them?

    What, your parents never taught you manners? And now you want me to do their job? Or did you just reject all their teachings as “fascist?”

    I explicitly mentioned “mutual self-restraint and respect for the equal freedom of others” as part of the rules of basic civility. Are those words too big for you? Or are you one of those bigots who think that repecting others’ rights is an infringement on their own?

  40. #40 DuWayne
    September 29, 2006

    What, your parents never taught you manners? And now you want me to do their job? Or did you just reject all their teachings as “fascist?”

    I explicitly mentioned “mutual self-restraint and respect for the equal freedom of others” as part of the rules of basic civility. Are those words too big for you? Or are you one of those bigots who think that repecting others’ rights is an infringement on their own?

    The manners my parents taught me are not codified into law nor should they be. While I agree that this is an issue open to debate, unlike most free speech discussions, to try to set blanket standards against “offensive” speech is precisely why this is a dangerous argument. The right to protest is an inherent right in this country and a necessary one. To try to stop the protests by a sick screwball like Phelps, we need to be carefull not to throw away too much. And what your arguing can be used to support laws against political protest as well. Narrow it down and I might be more interested in taking you seriously. But trying to claim we must have “mutual self-restraint and respect for the equal freedom of others,” could easily mean that we have no right to protest such activities as KKK rallies or even political rallies, held in the public square. I’m sorry, but you are arguing for throwing away too much here.

  41. #41 MJ Memphis
    September 29, 2006

    “The right to use public space does not include the right to hinder others’ lawful use of the same space.”

    Exactly. Unfortunately, it works both ways. Your right to use a public space does not include the right to not be offended. If someone is breaking some applicable law in a public space, then they should be cited for it- for instance, if they are violating noise ordinances or disrupting traffic. However, if they are merely expressing their point of view and not otherwise breaking any laws, then that is protected speech and the government has no business interfering, regardless how odious I (or you) may find their speech.

    “What, your parents never taught you manners? And now you want me to do their job? Or did you just reject all their teachings as “fascist?””

    Actually, I am well aware of manners. And I think it is best for everyone when people use them in the public square. But I don’t believe it is the government’s job to enforce them.

    “Or are you one of those bigots who think that repecting others’ rights is an infringement on their own?”

    Nope. I just don’t like speech restrictions without a very compelling reason behind them. Preventing people from being offended is not a very compelling reason.

  42. #42 Raging Bee
    September 29, 2006

    I still come down on the side of maximum liberty, even the liberty to do something I find absolutely appalling.

    “Maximum liberty” for whom? In this case, it certainly isn’t “maximum liberty” for the mourners, who are only trying to treat their dead according to their own principles. Don’t they deserve “maximum liberty” too?

    Phelps and his demented crew already have “maximum liberty” to express their views with no significant hindrance, just about any time or place they want. Allowing them to disrupt a funeral adds little to their freedom, while subtracting a LOT from the freedom of the mournners. A funeral is — by definition — a one-time affair; if it’s ruined the first time, there generally aren’t any do-overs.

    …But that’s an emotional reaction, however understandable and human, and we shouldn’t base policy decisions on those kinds of feelings.

    What policy decision is NOT based on “those kinds of feelings?” Are you implying (for example) we shouldn’t punish child-molesters just because you — and a few tens of millions of others, give or take — have an “emotional reaction” to such actions?

    The response you predict is perfectly appropriate; therefore you cannot deny others the right to protect their private rituals as you would protect yours.

  43. #43 Raging Bee
    September 29, 2006

    And what your arguing can be used to support laws against political protest as well.

    No, it very clearly cannot: a political protest is different from the act of disrupting a private, voluntary gathering. And while I’m belaboring the obvious, let me also state, just for the record, that the Earth is round, the daytime sky is blue, and the Holocaust really happened.

    Narrow it down and I might be more interested in taking you seriously.

    I DID narrow it down: we’re talking about the right to conduct private (possibly religious) rituals free of harassment and abuse (not “offense,” there’s a difference). Tell me why that’s a problem for you and I’ll be more intersted in taking YOU seriously.

    But trying to claim we must have “mutual self-restraint and respect for the equal freedom of others,” could easily mean that we have no right to protest such activities as KKK rallies or even political rallies, held in the public square.

    News flash: we ALREADY don’t have the right to disrupt lawful political protests or rallies in public places. If you charge into a rally shouting abuse, or obstruct a parade that’s been given a permit, then the cops will pull you away, and possibly ticket or arrest you as well, regardless of who the ralliers are. That’s how “free speech” and “right to peaceful assembly” work. Note, if you will, that “protesting” something is not the same thing as “disrupting” it.

    MJ Memphis: your entire argument fails, because it is based on your refusal to distinguish between “offense” and “harassment” or “verbal abuse.” Trashing my religion in a speech or Web site is “offense.” Interfering with my ability to conduct a ritual, on either public or private space, is “harassment.” Any reasonable adult can tell the difference. Why do you insist on pretending there is none?

  44. #44 MJ Memphis
    September 29, 2006

    Raging Bee- I explicitly stated that, if the protest in question is violating some other law, then they should be cited for it. For instance, if they are violating a law against harassing an individual, then fine- have them cited. If they are not violating such a law, then they are within their rights, and maybe you should seek a less public venue for your ritual.

    “Interfering with my ability to conduct a ritual, on either public or private space, is “harassment.””

    You know, I think we are talking past each other here. Give me an example of what sort of “ritual” you are referring to, and what sort of “harassment” would qualify, in your mind, as “interfering with [your] ability to conduct” said ritual. Because the definition you are setting out here seems unreasonably broad and subject to abuse. For instance, if the local Baptist megachurch decided to use the local public pool to perform baptisms, do they have the right to keep the local kids from splashing around in it because they are “interfering with the ability to conduct their rituals”?

    “Any reasonable adult can tell the difference.”

    Well, there are several individuals, who all seem quite reasonable, who are disagreeing with you. Assuming that they are adults, your proposition seems to be false.

  45. #45 Jason I.
    September 29, 2006

    Raging Bee said:

    Interfering with my ability to conduct a ritual, on either public or private space, is “harassment.”

    I’m in no way a lawyer, and do not know if this falls under the legal definition of harassment. However, I think the big disconnect here is that you are defining things differently than other people. Please correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems like you are saying that shouting at someone is interfering with their ability to conduct a funeral. If the cemetery (which is where I believe Phelps and his thugs tend to do this) is a municipal or public cemetery, there’s nothing that can be done to prevent them from gathering there. And while you may perceive shouting as interference, the law does not, which is why Phelps and his thugs have yet to be arrested for their vile behavior.

    Ed Brayton said:

    wouldn’t stop me from bumrushing the bastards and punching the first one I could get ahold of

    Ed, I’ll hold ‘em while you punch ‘em.

  46. #46 Raging Bee
    September 29, 2006

    The manners my parents taught me are not codified into law nor should they be.

    I can’t speak for what your parents taught you, but large parts of the manners MY parents taught me ARE codified into law: if a cop sees me waving my private parts about in a public space, or shouting obscenities at people who aren’t doing anything wrong, then said cop will be obligated to deny me my right to “express myself” in such manner, by (at least) physically removing me from the area. And shouting “Help, I’m being repressed!” won’t cut it as a response.

    Disrupting a funeral is no different, in the legal or practical sense.

  47. #47 Raging Bee
    September 29, 2006

    …it seems like you are saying that shouting at someone is interfering with their ability to conduct a funeral.

    A funeral is a time of mourning a death, remembering the deceased’s life, and celebrating the deceased’s achievements. It is a time where certain emotions are expected to be expressed without interference. Shouting abuse at mourners at a funeral defeats the purpose of such gatherings, therefore, yes, it does indeed interfere with the mourners’ ability to conduct a funeral. Just like verbal harassment of people inpublic places interferes with their right to be in public unpunished.

    If the cemetery (which is where I believe Phelps and his thugs tend to do this) is a municipal or public cemetery, there’s nothing that can be done to prevent them from gathering there.

    If the operators of a cemetary, public or private, permit someone to be buried on their turf, then they are, in effect, promising the deceased a place, and promising the mourners the use of their land, unmolested and unharassed, for a proper burial ceremony.

    A publicly-owned cemetary means the public have the right/duty to see that their property is used for its intended purpose, and for no contrary purpose.

    …And while you may perceive shouting as interference, the law does not, which is why Phelps and his thugs have yet to be arrested for their vile behavior.

    Therefore the law is wrong and should be changed.

  48. #48 Raging Bee
    September 29, 2006

    For instance, if the local Baptist megachurch decided to use the local public pool to perform baptisms, do they have the right to keep the local kids from splashing around in it because they are “interfering with the ability to conduct their rituals”?

    If the local public pool gave them a PERMIT to perform such a ritual, and if that permit specified a time-slot when the pool would be reserved for their use, and if the church paid a reasonable amount for such a reservation, and if such permits were available to all on the same basis, then yes, it would be perfectly appropriate for the public pool to keep others from interfering with their ritual.

    If, however, they just walked in unannounced and started doing their thing, then they could expect no such protection, and might even be expelled for interfering with others’ right to use the facilities.

  49. #49 MJ Memphis
    September 29, 2006

    “I can’t speak for what your parents taught you, but large parts of the manners MY parents taught me ARE codified into law:”

    What a coincidence- a large part of the Christian Decalogue is also codified into law. This does not imply that the parts that *aren’t* codified into law should be considered to hold the force of law as well. I’m glad your parents taught you not to violate indecent exposure laws, but the law would apply to you whether they had or not. Likewise, I refrain from discussing politics or religion in public (not counting blogs as public, for this purpose), because I was taught it was rude, but that doesn’t mean that I think no one else should be able to.

  50. #50 MJ Memphis
    September 29, 2006

    “If, however, they just walked in unannounced and started doing their thing, then they could expect no such protection, and might even be expelled for interfering with others’ right to use the facilities.”

    Well, now we’re getting somewhere. Did the funeral in question have a permit permitting them sole useage of the public areas where the Phelpses were doing their protests, or did they not? If they did, then the Phelpses should have been summarily ejected from the premises. If they didn’t, and the Phelpses stayed on public property, then they were within their rights. I’m not going to argue that they aren’t horrible people who were behaving extremely rudely, and I also won’t argue that, if I acted like they did, my mother would be extremely unhappy. But that is different from being legally in the wrong.

  51. #51 Ed Brayton
    September 29, 2006

    Raging Bee-

    I think you’re using your terms rather loosely here. The protestors do not “interfere” with a funeral. The funeral goes on just as it was planned, they don’t block anyone from taking place, nor do they drown out what is being said, nor can they step foot on the grounds of the funeral home or the cemetary. What they do is stand on public property and hold signs. If they were to use a bullhorn to interrupt things, that would be arrestable (disturbing the peace, if nothing else). So it’s really not interference with the mourning, it’s the emotional pain their actions cause on the part of the mourners. Now, that’s a perfectly reasonable thing to be angry about; I’m angry about it too. But the fact is that the opinions of others will often cause us emotional distress and that cannot be a coherent and consistent basis for abolishing the expression of those opinions. I am distressed and angered by anti-gay bigotry all the time, but that doesn’t mean the government should ban it, any more than the offense felt by the families of the military when someone speaks against a war should prompt the government to ban speaking against a war.

    Let’s use an analogy to a church service. If a group decides to protest the Catholic church’s policies on pedophile priests, the same legal rules ought to apply. Yes, those protests are going to cause much anger. No, they can’t go on church property to do it, nor may they use a bullhorn or amplifier to disrupt the church service. But they certainly may stand on public sidewalks outside the church and picket, including holding up signs and making speeches and the like.

    I think one can make a reasonable argument that there should be an exception made for funerals, that this is an event full of people so vulnerable that we should make it a protected place. But then what do we do with the death of a brutal dictator, or of someone like Fred Phelps? I certainly wouldn’t try and stop a protest of Phelps’ funeral. In fact, I would see it as quite appropriate and well deserved. And that’s why, on balance, I have to come down against such laws even though what they do makes me angry beyond belief. Sometimes we have to temper our emotional responses with rational thinking and not let our preferences override our intellectual consistency.

  52. #52 Raging Bee
    September 29, 2006

    The protestors do not “interfere” with a funeral. The funeral goes on just as it was planned, they don’t block anyone from taking place, nor do they drown out what is being said, nor can they step foot on the grounds of the funeral home or the cemetary.

    If a gang of Klansmen, in full regalia, gathered around a group of blacks during a funeral ceremony, a reasonable adult would consider this an intentionally-intimidating presence, even if they weren’t doing anything else. Their presence would (again, intentionally) add to the hurt that the mourners bring to the funeral; therefore, their presence would interfere with the funeral. This would NOT be constitutionally-protected free speech. Neither would some idiot waving a hateful or insulting sign outside your front window, even if he stayed on the public sidewalk and didn’t make a sound.

    Let’s use an analogy to a church service. If a group decides to protest the Catholic church’s policies on pedophile priests, the same legal rules ought to apply. Yes, those protests are going to cause much anger. No, they can’t go on church property to do it, nor may they use a bullhorn or amplifier to disrupt the church service. But they certainly may stand on public sidewalks outside the church and picket, including holding up signs and making speeches and the like.

    If the protesters are outside a buiding, and the Mass is inside, with closable doors between them, then the hurtful and intimidating effect is not the same.

    (If the intent is to protest a particular Church policy (or lack of one), then it might be more appropriate to target an archdiocese office, rather than a religious observance.)

    I think one can make a reasonable argument that there should be an exception made for funerals, that this is an event full of people so vulnerable that we should make it a protected place. But then what do we do with the death of a brutal dictator, or of someone like Fred Phelps? I certainly wouldn’t try and stop a protest of Phelps’ funeral. In fact, I would see it as quite appropriate and well deserved.

    Are you saying that we can’t let people mourn their dead in peace because “the wrong people” might take advantage of that right? WHO CARES if Saddam or Phelps gets a proper funeral? We’ve already had plenty of opportunities to vilify them to the world; do we really need to hijack a funeral — and insult possibly-innocent surviving relatives — to make the same point? It’s not like the person you’re hating is there to feel your wrath.

    In the brutal dictator case, I’d simply give the funeral a miss; in the Phelps case, I’d avoid stooping to their level, and thus helping them to justify an action that was previously unjustified; again, I’d give it a miss, and do the appropriate happy-dance elsewhere. (One of the central points of funerals is to say “Okay, he’s dead and out of our reach, so all our worldly conflict with him is now over.” I think it’s a good message to send, and perfectly in line with some of the better religious teachings I’ve heard.)

    Did the funeral in question have a permit permitting them sole useage of the public areas where the Phelpses were doing their protests, or did they not?

    Show me a funeral that went ahead without the required permits, and I’ll show you an incompetent funeral-planner.

  53. #53 Raging Bee
    September 29, 2006

    What a coincidence- a large part of the Christian Decalogue is also codified into law. This does not imply that the parts that *aren’t* codified into law should be considered to hold the force of law as well.

    Two words: non-sequitur. Or is that one?

  54. #54 MJ Memphis
    September 29, 2006

    “Two words: non-sequitur. Or is that one?”

    Well, since it mirrors the argument you implied, I guess one is a non sequitur only if the other is. You stated that large parts of the manners you were taught are, indeed, codified into law- with the implication (from your earlier posts) that the rest of those manners should also have some bearing on anyone other than yourself. I simply pointed out that several parts of the Decalogue (shalt not murder, shalt not steal, and so forth) are also codified into law. I don’t expect the parts of the Decalogue that are *not* part of the law to have any bearing on anyone who doesn’t follow them, and neither should you expect the parts of your manners that aren’t codified into law to have any bearing on anyone other than yourself.

  55. #55 Ed Brayton
    September 29, 2006

    Raging Bee wrote:

    If a gang of Klansmen, in full regalia, gathered around a group of blacks during a funeral ceremony, a reasonable adult would consider this an intentionally-intimidating presence, even if they weren’t doing anything else. Their presence would (again, intentionally) add to the hurt that the mourners bring to the funeral; therefore, their presence would interfere with the funeral. This would NOT be constitutionally-protected free speech. Neither would some idiot waving a hateful or insulting sign outside your front window, even if he stayed on the public sidewalk and didn’t make a sound.

    Intimidation is an entirely different argument from “interfering”. It certainly does add to the hurt that the mourners bring to the funeral, but that’s not a solid or consistent basis on which to prohibit speech. In fact, it most likely would be constitutional even in the case of the KKK. There are no threats going on, just expression of an opinion, no matter how vile those opinions are.

    Are you saying that we can’t let people mourn their dead in peace because “the wrong people” might take advantage of that right? WHO CARES if Saddam or Phelps gets a proper funeral? We’ve already had plenty of opportunities to vilify them to the world; do we really need to hijack a funeral — and insult possibly-innocent surviving relatives — to make the same point? It’s not like the person you’re hating is there to feel your wrath.

    You’re missing the point though. The question is not whether such protests are good or bad (they’re obviously horrific); the question is whether they are constitutionally protected or not.

  56. #56 Raging Bee
    September 29, 2006

    I don’t expect the parts of the Decalogue that are *not* part of the law to have any bearing on anyone who doesn’t follow them, and neither should you expect the parts of your manners that aren’t codified into law to have any bearing on anyone other than yourself.

    Again, this is a non-sequitur that avoids my point: good manners are, and should be, codified into law when they have demonstrable effects on others; and “freedom of speech” does not mean “freedom from manners.” It’s perfectly okay to ban public verbal abuse, but not eating with one’s elbows on the table.

    What was your point again?

  57. #57 MJ Memphis
    September 29, 2006

    “good manners are, and should be, codified into law when they have demonstrable effects on others”

    Well, we will just have to agree to disagree. And I bet you would have a hard time demonstrating which exact behaviors “have demonstrable effects on others” and which don’t. I personally know people that get absolutely livid if you start discussing politics from a perspective they don’t agree with- it has a demonstrable effect on them. It does not follow that people should be banned from talking about politics in public- even though it *is* good manners not to discuss politics/religion in public areas. What you consider trivial may be a real sore spot for someone else. “Good manners” is not a suitable rationale for lawmaking.

    And my point is that you do not get to enforce your manners on me, any more than I get to enforce my manners on you. Or do you really want the folks like Dobson, Robertson, etc. to get to tell you what speech is polite enough for public consumption, and what speech is too impolite to be allowed in the public sphere?

  58. #58 Raging Bee
    September 29, 2006

    Intimidation is an entirely different argument from “interfering”.

    Direct intimidation, such as the presence of uninvited and clearly-hostile interlopers at a private ritual, is a violation of the victims’ right to free speech and free assembly. This is what such intimidating acts are intended to do; the “protesters” know this when they plan it, and the mourners know it when it happens.

    (And don’t try to tell me that a bunch of Klansmen in full regalia, going out of their way to hang around a black gathering, is “no threats going on, just expression of an opinion.” Threatening and intimidating nonwhites is the very reason for the KKK’s existence. The KKK understand this, and so do the blacks they confront; so there’s no point in any of us pretending not to understand something that’s been so obvious for the entire lifespan of the KKK.)

    The question is not whether such protests are good or bad…the question is whether they are constitutionally protected or not.

    I’m not missing that point at all. I’ve explicitly said, and I’m saying again, that interfering with funerals is NOT constitutionally protected, for the same reason that fighting words and public verbal abuse are not so protected. My right to free speech ends where my neighbor’s begins, and it is perfectly appropriate, and necessary, for local governments to make reasonable laws to clarify the boundaries between the two — which they’ve been doing for centuries anyway. (What do you think parade permits are for?)

  59. #59 Raging Bee
    September 29, 2006

    MJ: So now you’re saying you can’t let anyone “enforce” any concept of good manners because that might mean the religious right get to suppress free speech? That’s not just a non-sequitur, that’s a very paranoid non-sequitur. In fact, your opinion only makes sense if we assume that the religious right is the only source of “manners” — which is exactly what the religious right want us to think. Have they brainwashed you?

    I was taught manners by unabashedly liberal parents; and it is that code of manners that tells me how far in the wrong the religious right is. So I really don’t think that a code of manners makes us more vulnerable to fascist repression. (Fascists, after all, aren’t exactly renowned for manners.)

  60. #60 Jason I.
    September 29, 2006

    Raging Bee said:

    Direct intimidation, such as the presence of uninvited and clearly-hostile interlopers at a private ritual, is a violation of the victims’ right to free speech and free assembly.

    Please understand, I agree that what Phelps and his thugs do is vile. However, I disagree with a number of things in this sentence, and I’ll do my best to explain why. I think again it comes down to a matter of definitions.

    Direct intimidation

    To me, this means someone getting in my face and making threats, or attempting to physically prevent me from doing something. If Phelps or his thugs did this, they would be in jail. If someone yells at me “God hates fags! You’re going to hell!” or holds up a sign expressing a similar sentiment, this is not direct intimidation, nor is their being on a public sidewalk expressing these sentiments.

    presence of uninvited and clearly-hostile interlopers

    If someone steps foot into a private place uninvited, they can be asked to leave, and escorted off or arrested by the police if they don’t leave. As far as hostility goes, that’s not against the law. If Phelps tried to talk to me, I’d be very clearly hostile to him. But not in a physical way, because that is against the law. As far as I know, neither Phelps nor his numerous asinine minions have engaged in physical hostility.

    at a private ritual

    As has been stated many times in this discussion, if Phelps et. al. set foot on private property, they can be asked to leave, or escorted away by police. If I decide to hold an event in a public park, I can’t expect full and complete privacy. Holding a funeral in a cemetery, especially a public or municipal one, does not guarantee full and complete privacy either.

    is a violation of the victims’ right to free speech and free assembly

    This is true only if the funeral is in some way prevented from being held, or if people are prevented from participating in the funeral. Otherwise, Phelps and his gang have just as much right to free speech and free assembly as the funeral participants.

    I disagree with everything Phelps stands for and says. But he does have a right to stand for and say the things he does.

  61. #61 MJ Memphis
    September 29, 2006

    Raging Bee:

    I’m glad your parents taught you manners. I’m glad you’re happy with them. I’m happy with mine too. I’d hazard a guess that they are much more similar to the manners of your family than to those of the Phelps. However, I hope you don’t think that either a) the concept of “good manners” is universal, or b) that your concept of “good manners” is superior and should be codified into law.

    “In fact, your opinion only makes sense if we assume that the religious right is the only source of “manners” — which is exactly what the religious right want us to think. Have they brainwashed you?”

    No, it only makes sense if you believe that the people who yell loudest about how offended they are are the ones most likely to have laws tailored to fit their sensibilities, assuming we are operating under a “good manners as law” regime. And, last I checked, the conservatives have much more political clout at the moment. Which is why, as the post pointed out, the politicos weren’t too concerned with passing laws against the Phelpses when they were just picketing gay funerals.

    PS: so far on this thread you’ve insulted my intelligence (“are those words too big for you?”) and my upbringing, and implied that I am a bigot who wants to oppress you. Now, personally, I don’t care, but it is a rather interesting tack to take for someone who is presuming to lecture the rest of us on proper manners.

  62. #62 DuWayne
    September 29, 2006

    So what your saying is, rudeness should be a criminal offense? Give me a bloody break.

    I DID narrow it down: we’re talking about the right to conduct private (possibly religious) rituals free of harassment and abuse (not “offense,” there’s a difference). Tell me why that’s a problem for you and I’ll be more intersted in taking YOU seriously.

    You did not. What you are arguing would apply equaly to political protest that those protested against might find offensive. It would be the same for anyone protesting anything. If you are going to restrict the right of people to protest anything, while on public property, you restrict them all – period. Even if you think it should just apply to funerals doesn’t mean that is the only place it can be applied. By the logic you are espousing it would be equaly applicable to any sort of protest on public property. I am sorry, but in America there is no inherent right not to be offended. Even when the offense is deep and painfull – such as it is when Phelps and his family protest funerals.

    (What do you think parade permits are for?)

    To get the cities permission to close off a public street. Not to restrict who can protest. Any gathering over a certain size does often require a permit so that the municipal government can ensure public health and safety requirements are met.

    Look, these actions are moraly repugnant but they are and should be legal. To restrict the freedom of protest in these narrow parameters is not possible without restricting it outside of them. What needs to happen, and has, is to get groups together to keep these people out of sight of the funerals. Simply being there in the only public spaces where Phelps and his ilk could disrupt the funeral keeps them from being able to protest there. I know at least one biker group has been doing just that and that there are a lot of organizations that do their damndest to ensure that every funeral (whether soldier or homosexual) is covered. That is how it should work, short of assholes like Phelps getting a conscience and just stopping their vile behavior.

  63. #63 DuWayne
    September 29, 2006

    So now you’re saying you can’t let anyone “enforce” any concept of good manners because that might mean the religious right get to suppress free speech? That’s not just a non-sequitur, that’s a very paranoid non-sequitur. In fact, your opinion only makes sense if we assume that the religious right is the only source of “manners” — which is exactly what the religious right want us to think. Have they brainwashed you?

    I would argue that you can’t enforce good manners because we have a constitutionaly protected right to be rude.

  64. #64 Raging Bee
    September 29, 2006

    This is true only if the funeral is in some way prevented from being held, or if people are prevented from participating in the funeral.

    Funerals are emotional events as much as physical ones. They are organized for the purpose of expressing certain emotions relating to the death of the person being mourned, in a friendly environment. If others are allowed to interfere with the expression of such emotions, even if by presence alone, then, for all practical purposes, they have prevented the funeral from going as planned and achieving the purpose for which the mourners had come. Those who don’t get to mourn properly, as they had expected to do, have, for all practical purposes, been “prevented from participating in the funeral.”

    Consider a birthday party that a parent has organized for a kid. It’s supposed to be a happy occasion, right? But if a gaggle of hostile neighbors, or a gang of bullying older kids, show up and just stare hatefully at the birthday-boy and guests, then, for all practical purposes, they have prevented the happy occasion from happening, even if they do not physically interfere in any action. For all practical purposes, they might as well have cancelled the party altogether. The fact that such obvious bullying of a private occasion is neither loud nor violent does not make it constitutionally-protected free speech.

  65. #65 Jason I.
    September 29, 2006

    Raging Bee said:

    The fact that such obvious bullying of a private occasion is neither loud nor violent does not make it constitutionally-protected free speech.

    Actually, I’m pretty sure it does. Especially if the bullies do not set foot on private property. If I stare hatefully at my neighbor every time he’s in his backyard, that doesn’t mean he can have me arrested. Even if I tell him I hate him every time I see him, there’s nothing he can do. If he allows my staring at him to stop him from entering his backyard, that’s his choice. All he can do is ignore me and go on about his life.

  66. #66 DuWayne
    September 29, 2006

    Raging Bee -

    Look at what these protests accomplish. They are hurt the feelings of the mourners, they offend the mourners and make the mourners angry. Yes, they do so to an extreme degree and I’m with Ed, I promise you, I would be going to jail if they protested any funeral I happen to attend – but it’s just a matter of degree between this and the results of any other protest. When you make a law banning protest at funerals, it becomes really easy to ban them at GLBT festivals. Or at abortion clinics. Add to that list anti-nuke power protests, anti-fur protests. Lets see, add to this list anti-war, political dissent. Because it’s all a matter of degree. The constitution gives nobody the right not to be offended, not to have our feelings hurt, not to be made angry and I’m damned glad it doesn’t.

    I don’t want those with extremist views to be forced to hide in their churches or homes – voiceless and disenfranchised. The next step if they are extreme enough is terrorism. If they are left to sulk, unable to vent it becomes that much easier to use violence. The answer to people like Phelps is to stand up to him and make it clear he is alone. Marginalize him with public opinion. Get together with one of the groups countering him. Occupy the space he needs to disrupt the funerals – have fundraisers and make sure he knows that every minute he is there he is bringing funds into GLBT charities.

    Making a law against free speech is just not American. What is American is to come together against cretins like Phelps, drown them out and marginalize them. And there are few people out there, regardless their views on homosexuality, who would not be willing to stand up to him.

  67. #67 LiberalDirk
    September 29, 2006

    Actually the solution to this problem has been brought up in the thread.

    Rather than make a law banning protests at funerals a law needs to be made regarding the usage of municipal graveyards.

    Essentially the law would cover the issuing of permits to parties conducting and involved in a funeral. This would allow for the ejection of Phelps and his welps during the funeral. Essentially making the municipal property private property for the duration of the funeral.

    Of course their would be other issues to be addressed but it is for such purposes that there exist legislatures, to debate and craft legislation.

  68. #68 JS
    September 30, 2006

    MJ: So now you’re saying you can’t let anyone “enforce” any concept of good manners because that might mean the religious right get to suppress free speech? That’s not just a non-sequitur, that’s a very paranoid non-sequitur.

    I seem to recall that the principal argument in favour of banning blashpemous cartoons after the Danish Cartoon Jihad a while back was precisely that the government should enforce ‘good manners,’ and that the cartoons in question were ‘obviously’ going against ‘good manners.’

    Now, if you want to argue that the Hizb al Tahrir are not members of the Religious Right, or that the Danish cartoons violated some obvious standard of civilised behaviour, be my guest…

    Until you’ve made a convincing case for either, however, I maintain that the RR does in fact challenge clearly lawful, civilised and legitimate behaviour using precisely the same logic you do.

    - JS

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