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.