23 January 2008

Weighing In

Freedom of Speech.  Right to Assembly.  Noble concepts that are often bandied about as though they are clearly understood and are god-given rights.  I do feel that we ought to have the rights to have freedom of speech and assembly.  But I also think that my right ends where your nose begins.  In other words, it is not with reckless abandon that I might exercise my perceived rights.

The first amendment to the Constitution, which most point to indignantly to endorse their behaviors, forbids Congress to make any laws that would prohibit the right of people to peaceably assemble.  Usually, this includes approved petition, in which organized protesters must have a permit to conduct their assembly.  Limits to public speaking includes where (free speech zones) and the assembled crowd size.  Speech which is probable to incite violence does not fall under right to freedom of speech, this is considered hate speech, and is in excess of peaceable protest.

There may be a time for all things under the sun; a funeral is neither the time nor the place for a protest.  In the case of funerals, where emotions are running high, protest can cause distress beyond the acceptable levels.  Several rather prominent cases have recently made the news, with courts presiding and legislation addressing the specific issue of protests held at funerals.  Below are some linked quotes:

"“Family members have a personal stake in honoring and mourning their dead and objecting to unwarranted public exploitation that, by intruding upon their own grief, tends to degrade the rites and respect they seek to accord to the deceased person who was once their own,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote"..."“the interests of families in privately and peacefully mourning the loss of deceased relatives are violated when funerals are targeted for picketing and other public demonstrations.”"

"it turns out that the government (a) can ban loud picketing outside funerals, and (b) can probably ban all picketing immediately outside the funeral, but (c) must allow picketing or marching relatively near to funerals. How near is impossible to tell, but picketers can't be required to stay 300 feet or more away; they probably have to be allowed to march past the funeral, and perhaps even to picket, say, 100 or 200 feet away."..."it's a good bet that courts will find that the interest in protecting the privacy of the grieving at a funeral is at least as strong as the interest in protecting the privacy of people at their homes."

As I've commented on another entry, "ya know, if a group of PFLAG supporters protested a funeral, the entire world would be up in arms about the crass violation of sacred space and the intrusion of grief.  perspective folks, for god's sake, have some respect."

By the way, Fred Phelps, the ring-leader in the circus of church-sponsored protesting at funerals, has been considered problematic from the Courts' perspective for thirty years, having received many reprimands and warnings, which finally resulted in his disbarment about twenty years ago.

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