What brings together a conservative blowhard blog, a hard-left-leaning-liberal rag, and a group of ungenerous “anarchists, monarchists, or social democrats”? A disdain for the Westboro Baptist Church is one thing. More importantly, however, is a shared dislike for the pandering, anti-first-amendment portion of the Honoring America’s Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act. According to the Army Times, there are more than 50 provisions in the bill, most of which are relatively non-controversial or even necessary. However, one of these provisions is not quite so harmless.
Under the new legislation, protests must be held at least 300 feet from military funerals and are prohibited two hours before or after a service. The law counters a 2011 Supreme Court ruling, which found that displays such as Westboro’s were protected under the First Amendment.
Popehat (in a post I’ve already linked once) takes the law to task in their own unique style, with even more fun to be had in the comments. Hot Air opines on the law in two separate posts, but both express similar concerns.
I hate to say it, but this certainly does smell of pandering. There’s no easier path to public praise for politicians than to do something to support our military and veterans. (And rightly so.) But there’s a difference between doing something substantive to help them and just passing a bill which you know will get shot down just so you can look like you’re being tough on the protesters. If the government can regulate speech to the point where they can prevent you from showing up two hours before until two hours after an event, that would be a precedent which could very quickly get out of control.
Westboro baptist is a truly vile and hateful group, but as American citizens, they have the right to be hateful and vile. It’s something the supreme court recently reminded us about. I’m somewhat surprised that no one seems to have mentioned it to the congresscritters that voted for this. In addition,
I suspect that the Westboro clowns have their lawyer on speed dial, or at least within sermonizing distance. This would be the very same lawyer that successfully argued this very issue in front of the supreme court. So not only is this a simple look-what-I-did for congress to give to mommy to stick up on the fridge, it’s ultimately doomed to failure. We can only hope that only a few tax dollars get flushed down the crapper during the inevitable court fight.
Meanwhile, first amendment lawyer Marc Randazza reminds us of a much simpler and cheaper solution.
Edit: Fixed speling errer in hedline
Edit: Made some minor word and format changes.
Edit: Dustin points out in the comments that the lawyer for the Westboro Baptist Church is the daughter of Rev. Phelps. I’ve made a clarification.