Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Free Speech...Unless It's Really Offensive?


"Congress took action where the Supreme Court didn’t to curb Westboro Baptist Church’s followers from protesting the funerals of fallen troops and veterans.

President Obama signed into law Monday the Honoring America’s Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act that includes language aimed at protecting service members funerals. The church based in Kansas is best known for staging protests at service members funerals to protest the service of homosexuals in the military.

In 2011, the Supreme Court ruled the First Amendment protected Westboro’s right to protest the funerals. Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the majority opinion that “as a nation we have chosen … to protect even hurtful speech on public issues to ensure that we do not stifle public debate.”

Sen. Olympia Snow, R-Maine, introduced legislation three months following the Court’s ruling that gives the government the right to further protect the funerals. The act argues that ensuring fallen troops have respectful burials is important to maintaining a strong military and protecting national security.

The new law extends bans on picketing funeral services of troops and veterans from 150 feet to 300 feet, and prohibits protests from being conducted up to two hours before and after a funeral. Previously the ban was for an hour before and after.

Violations are punishable by a fine and up to a year in jail." (source)

Circumventing the Supreme Court and placing tangible limitations on free speech seems wrong to me --even in light of how much I despise the Westboro "Baptist" "Church." Last week, as I was explaining the Chick-Fil-A dust up to my kids, we talked a lot about defending speech even when it makes our skin crawl. Always makes me think about Michael Douglas' free speech diatribe in The American President:

"America isn't easy. America is advanced citizenship. You gotta want it bad, 'cause it's gonna put up a fight. It's gonna say "You want free speech? Let's see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who's standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours. You want to claim this land as the land of the free? Then the symbol of your country can't just be a flag; the symbol also has to be one of its citizens exercising his right to burn that flag in protest. Show me that, defend that, celebrate that in your classrooms. Then, you can stand up and sing about the "land of the free". The American President, 1995

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