Funeral protests

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

It's a fine line: Where does free speech end and criminal activity begin? While yelling "fire" in a crowded theater is often cited as abuse of First Amendment rights, there are other examples of similarly irresponsible behavior. The latest example is the protests of military funerals -- a practice adopted by some members of the Westboro Baptist Church.

There's little question that protesting the funerals of our country's bravest individuals is in abhorrently bad taste. But is this behavior covered under the First Amendment? According to members in the Missouri House, absolutely not.

The House recently passed legislation that would restrict funeral protests. The legislation would make protesting within 500 feet two hours before and after a funeral a misdemeanor. The 500-foot limit applies to cemeteries, mortuaries, churches or other worship centers.

The U.S. Supreme Court has also chimed in on this issue. While legislation in Missouri deals with a criminal offense, the high court recently ruled that protestors cannot be sued for civil damages as a result of the emotional pain they inflict through their funeral demonstrations.

Our First Amendment rights are a precious thing. And while our freedom of speech should be protected, the Missouri House has acted appropriately in limiting when and where these protests can take place. The families of slain soldiers have gone through a great deal of pain and suffering as it is. By passing this legislation, House members have voted to ensure that a few disingenuous protesters don't ruin a family's chance to say their final goodbyes to a loved one in peace.

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