Congress puts kibosh on anti-gay Westboro Church's funeral protests

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    Aug 03, 2012 11:53 AM GMT
    Score one for common decency. Though I suspect it's going to be a nasty free speech battle.

    On Tuesday, Congress passed the "Honoring America's Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act of 2012," which says that protesters must be at least 300 feet from military funerals from two hours before they start until two hours after they end. Violators could face unspecified fines and up to two years in prison. It's awaiting Obama's signature.

    Is this a violation of the First Amendment sure to be struck down by the Supreme Court? Or is it merely limitations, which have been upheld before, on when and where demonstrators can practice their free speech?
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    Aug 03, 2012 12:42 PM GMT
    You can't yell "bomb" at the airport or "fire" at a theater. This is no difference.
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    Aug 03, 2012 12:45 PM GMT
    endo saidScore one for common decency. Though I suspect it's going to be a nasty free speech battle.

    On Tuesday, Congress passed the "Honoring America's Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act of 2012," which says that protesters must be at least 300 feet from military funerals from two hours before they start until two hours after they end. Violators could face unspecified fines and up to two years in prison. It's awaiting Obama's signature.

    Is this a violation of the First Amendment sure to be struck down by the Supreme Court? Or is it merely limitations, which have been upheld before, on when and where demonstrators can practice their free speech?


    Technically, it is a 1st amendment violation. Outside of Schenck vs. the United States in 1919, no rulings have ever been made to limit free speech except in cases of treason, national security, and public safety dangers. As awful as these people are, they're afforded the rights to speak and think as they choose. It's completely ignorant for them to be this way, but free speech works both ways. Once you take steps toward limiting certain types of speech, you open the doors for additional limitations to be placed.

    Also, yelling "fire" or "bomb" is completely different than hate speech.
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    Aug 03, 2012 12:53 PM GMT
    redsoxfan791 saidTechnically, it is a 1st amendment violation. Outside of Schenck vs. the United States in 1919, no rulings have ever been made to limit free speech except in cases of treason, national security, and public safety dangers. As awful as these people are, they're afforded the rights to speak and think as they choose. It's completely ignorant for them to be this way, but free speech works both ways. Once you take steps toward limiting certain types of speech, you open the doors for additional limitations to be placed.

    Also, yelling "fire" or "bomb" is completely different than hate speech.


    I'm no Constitutional scholar, so I don't know if your statement is true. Obscenity, child pornography, offensive speech, fighting words have all been found to be exceptions to free speech as well.

    I think some clever lawyers could make a case that Westboro's demonstrations could likewise be excluded, particularly since they're only being limited for 4 hours.

    As I said, I suspect this could go to the Supreme Court.
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    Aug 03, 2012 12:57 PM GMT
    It will most likely be taken to the supreme court. However, I hope that they uphold it. Anyone who claims to love people in any capacity, yet pickets funerals (often times one of the most miserable days of a lifetime for the surviving friends/family) is just plain hateful/hypocritical.
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    Aug 03, 2012 12:57 PM GMT
    endo said
    redsoxfan791 saidTechnically, it is a 1st amendment violation. Outside of Schenck vs. the United States in 1919, no rulings have ever been made to limit free speech except in cases of treason, national security, and public safety dangers. As awful as these people are, they're afforded the rights to speak and think as they choose. It's completely ignorant for them to be this way, but free speech works both ways. Once you take steps toward limiting certain types of speech, you open the doors for additional limitations to be placed.

    Also, yelling "fire" or "bomb" is completely different than hate speech.


    I'm no Constitutional scholar, so I don't know if your statement is true. Obscenity, child pornography, offensive speech, fighting words have all been found to be exceptions to free speech as well.

    I think some clever lawyers could make a case that Westboro's demonstrations could likewise be excluded, particularly since they're only being limited for 4 hours.

    As I said, I suspect this could go to the Supreme Court.


    Child pornography is considered a public safety danger as it endangers the safety of children.

    Obscenity is limited only in certain formats (i.e. network television, public radio). One could argue successfully that the FCC is unconstitutional, and their acts to restrict free speech are not to protect the public. It's rarely restricted in other formats.

    Offensive language and fighting words are used all of the time on public airwaves, city streets, sporting events, every day life, etc. If that's being restricted, I'd like to know where. Furthermore, in the case of hate crimes legislation, it is an unconstitutional restriction as it pertains to the idea of thought crimes.
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    Aug 03, 2012 1:00 PM GMT
    redsoxfan791 said
    endo said
    redsoxfan791 saidTechnically, it is a 1st amendment violation. Outside of Schenck vs. the United States in 1919, no rulings have ever been made to limit free speech except in cases of treason, national security, and public safety dangers. As awful as these people are, they're afforded the rights to speak and think as they choose. It's completely ignorant for them to be this way, but free speech works both ways. Once you take steps toward limiting certain types of speech, you open the doors for additional limitations to be placed.

    Also, yelling "fire" or "bomb" is completely different than hate speech.


    I'm no Constitutional scholar, so I don't know if your statement is true. Obscenity, child pornography, offensive speech, fighting words have all been found to be exceptions to free speech as well.

    I think some clever lawyers could make a case that Westboro's demonstrations could likewise be excluded, particularly since they're only being limited for 4 hours.

    As I said, I suspect this could go to the Supreme Court.


    Child pornography is considered a public safety danger as it endangers the safety of children.

    Obscenity is limited only in certain formats (i.e. network television, public radio). One could argue successfully that the FCC is unconstitutional, and their acts to restrict free speech are not to protect the public. It's rarely restricted in other formats.

    Offensive language and fighting words are used all of the time on public airwaves, city streets, sporting events, every day life, etc. If that's being restricted, I'd like to know where. Furthermore, in the case of hate crimes legislation, it is an unconstitutional restriction as it pertains to the idea of thought crimes.


    You're missing my point. My point is they have made exceptions in the past -- for multiple reasons. It's entirely reasonable they could again for an entirely new reason, particularly in a Roberts' court.

    I'm not arguing that they should. I'm suggesting that it's not unprecedented.
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    Aug 03, 2012 1:04 PM GMT
    So Westboro Church is being put on the telemarketer "no call" list?
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    Aug 03, 2012 1:22 PM GMT
    meh... if what they do is "free speech" then free speech is worth nothing
  • Latenight30

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    Aug 03, 2012 1:29 PM GMT
    It comes down to respect. Our armed service men and women are doing a job, I sure as hell don't want to do. We all know they don't "seek" out wars to join, they are put there by Fat Cat old men.
    When we lose them to these tragedies they have left behind family and friends. All of whom deserve respect.
    1st Amendment is about free speech and Peaceable assemble. Westboro is not peaceful.
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    Aug 03, 2012 1:31 PM GMT
    Supreme Court already does not like WBC. I don't see this as a 1st Amendment Issue. It is more about public safety and allowing a public ceremony to take place. Abortion Clinics have set up buffer zones, when parades happen people are not able to cross a certain line. They are still able to present a message and express how they feel but with limitations just like all of us deal with daily.
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    Aug 03, 2012 1:45 PM GMT
    theantijock saidSo Westboro Church is being put on the telemarketer "no call" list?


    Right on. And they can't campaign within 100 feet of polling places on Election Day.
  • musicdude

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    Aug 03, 2012 2:01 PM GMT
    i'm not well versed in american law but, in my opinion, they're not muzzling their voice, they're simply limiting when they can protest.
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    Aug 03, 2012 2:02 PM GMT
    I don't see this as a free speech issue. They are not being restricted from protesting totally, just during a certain time frame. They are still able to poison everyone's life with their hate.
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    Aug 03, 2012 2:08 PM GMT
    JimiB saidYou can't yell "bomb" at the airport or "fire" at a theater. This is no difference.


    Thats to prevent people from being killed by creating a panic. Protesting isnt the same thing. Huge difference.
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    Aug 03, 2012 2:09 PM GMT
    philibt saidI don't see this as a free speech issue. They are not being restricted from protesting totally, just during a certain time frame. They are still able to poison everyone's life with their hate.


    I think is going to be the work around. They do it at my work and at political events. They are allowed to protest in designated areas. Usually those areas are far enough way and obscured so no one really sees them.
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    Aug 03, 2012 2:19 PM GMT
    msuNtx saidSupreme Court already does not like WBC. I don't see this as a 1st Amendment Issue. It is more about public safety and allowing a public ceremony to take place. Abortion Clinics have set up buffer zones, when parades happen people are not able to cross a certain line. They are still able to present a message and express how they feel but with limitations just like all of us deal with daily.


    Nice point!!!
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    Aug 03, 2012 2:20 PM GMT
    texasrunner2247 saidIt will most likely be taken to the supreme court. However, I hope that they uphold it. Anyone who claims to love people in any capacity, yet pickets funerals (often times one of the most miserable days of a lifetime for the surviving friends/family) is just plain hateful/hypocritical.


    I wish there was a "LIke" button. Well said, btw.
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    Aug 03, 2012 2:27 PM GMT
    philibt saidI don't see this as a free speech issue. They are not being restricted from protesting totally, just during a certain time frame. They are still able to poison everyone's life with their hate.


    I bet they love Chic Fil A
  • ThatSwimmerGu...

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    Aug 03, 2012 2:28 PM GMT
    I don't think supreme court would strike it down. The only people who would disapprove of it even if it did violate free speech would be the Westbro Baptist Church.
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    Aug 03, 2012 3:16 PM GMT
    NormalGuy93 saidI don't think supreme court would strike it down. The only people who would disapprove of it even if it did violate free speech would be the Westbro Baptist Church.

    Untrue.

    Since I do disapprove it myself. It sucks and it's totally wrong but they have a right. It's a very slippery slope here if held up. Whose to say that todays unpopular opinion won't be tomorrows popular one and then our speech gets limited in the same regard? Doesn't matter if what they're spewing is hateful and just disgusting.

    When I was taught Constitutional Law my professor made this point that it's better just to have these assholes in the light where we can see what they're doing - they are the least dangerous when they are protesting. Limit that and they go to ground and blow up some gay couples home. Thats what happens when you isolate people - they withdraw from society and then they REALLY hurt someone.
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    Aug 03, 2012 3:30 PM GMT
    IceBucket said
    NormalGuy93 saidI don't think supreme court would strike it down. The only people who would disapprove of it even if it did violate free speech would be the Westbro Baptist Church.

    Untrue.

    Since I do disapprove it myself. It sucks and it's totally wrong but they have a right. It's a very slippery slope here if held up. Whose to say that todays unpopular opinion won't be tomorrows popular one and then our speech gets limited in the same regard? Doesn't matter if what they're spewing is hateful and just disgusting.

    When I was taught Constitutional Law my professor made this point that it's better just to have these assholes in the light where we can see what they're doing - they are the least dangerous when they are protesting. Limit that and they go to ground and blow up some gay couples home. Thats what happens when you isolate people - they withdraw from society and then they REALLY hurt someone.


    I think the slippery slope argument is a valid one and why I'm wishy-washy on this legislation.

    That said, they aren't eliminating their message, just restricting the time and location they can convey it. I think that's fair as long as such restrictions are reasonable -- and I think 4 hours is entirely reasonable.
  • QHCAguy

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    Aug 03, 2012 4:39 PM GMT
    Is this really doing anything other than drawing more attention to these screwballs? For instance, what happens when they ask the ACLU to help defend their right to free speech? I see this as just dragging them back from the brink of obscurity that all decent people had consigned them to.

    I see more and more actions like this:
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/06/texas-am-students_n_1653002.html

    And more and more Westboro is just not showing up.
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    Aug 03, 2012 4:46 PM GMT
    I don't think it'll past Constitutional muster and I don't think it should, for reasons that others have expressed.

    Clearly, the WBC folks are complete evil freaks. But they have been protesting at all kinds of events for decades, including funerals of those who died from AIDS, assorted gay rights events, and Jewish organizations and events. It's kind of offensive that Congress only seems to care when the military is involved. Don't get me wrong, I appreciate the job that our military does. But military funerals don't need some kind of special protection that others don't get.
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    Aug 03, 2012 6:48 PM GMT
    Is there a way to legally distinguish "fans" from "protestors"? I assume all "demonstrators" are expected to get a permit or something. But are supporters considered "demonstrators" subject to the 300-foot rule as well? Is someone supposed to police the intended speech at funerals: "You, sir, right across the street... you, ma'am, head on down the block."?