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Editorial: 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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This is truly an issue of civics, freedom, democracy and common decency. The horrible irony is that American soldiers have died fighting for the 'right' of fellow Americans to assemble and associate freely; and voice their opinion.

It appears that this group of American citizens is bastardizing that 'right' to incite the emotions of extraordinary people to draw attention to themselves. It's this attention, I imagine, that attracts followers and donations to their pitiful cause. It's sad really.

What is truly right is a tough call. I cannot blame for folks for being angry and for our lawmakers to respond accordingly - hopefully in an appropriate fashion.

We must not fall into this group's trap. Ignoring them the best action we can take, paying as little attention to their silly chants and threats to disrupt is the better medicine.

Those who ride with us and follow our lead know that we have two missions - assist grieving family and freinds in honoring our fallen heros; and doing what we can to make uninvited guests look and feel as small as they are.

The media here has done a pretty good job not 'advertising' for these people. Thank you.

Randy Dunn

Senior Ride Captain

SE Missouri

Patriot Guard Riders

-- Posted by Ride Captain on Wed, Mar 16, 2011, at 7:56 AM

Well said Mr. Dunn

-- Posted by FreedomFadingFast on Wed, Mar 16, 2011, at 1:51 PM

What are Fred Phelps and the WBC afraid of? Rainbows? Unicorns? A flaming pink queer apocalypse? I attempted to address this with a portrait of the good reverend on my artist's blog at http://dregstudiosart.blogspot.com/2011/... Drop in and let me know what you think!

-- Posted by dregstudios on Wed, Mar 16, 2011, at 2:21 PM

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