Thursday, May 11, 2006

Phelps Still Crud, Law Still Questionable

The blogger at Kierkegaard Lives e-mailed me to bring to my attention this article, about the U.S. House passing a measure against protests at military funerals.

Protesters, led by the Rev. Fred Phelps of Topeka, Kan., claim that U.S. military deaths in Iraq are a sign of divine punishment for America's tolerance of homosexuals.

Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., chief sponsor of the bill, said he took up the issue after attending a military funeral in his home state where mourners where greeted by ''chants and taunting and some of the most vile things I have ever heard.''

Under the legislation, unapproved demonstrations would be banned at Arlington National Cemetery and other federal burial grounds. It also bars protests within 500 feet of a military cemetery from 60 minutes before to 60 minutes after a funeral if those protests involve disruptive noises or other disturbances.

Those violating the act, which still needs Senate approval, would face up to a $100,000 fine and up to a year in prison.

The measure urges states to pass similar legislation to cover nonfederal cemeteries. More than a dozen states are considering laws aimed at funeral protesters.

The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a federal lawsuit against a new Kentucky law, saying it goes too far in limiting freedom of speech and expression. Rep. Steve Chabot, R-Ohio, said the House bill was crafted to meet constitutional standards for ''a reasonable time, place and manner restriction.''

I've blogged before about the utterly vile Fred Phelps and his "Christian outreach" (phooey) as well as legislation aimed at funeral protests. I'm not going to rehash here what I've previously written on the topic, so if you're interested in my stance, you can read those posts here and here.

The measure just passed by the House is clearly trying to strike a balance, and I can certainly appreciate its intent. Even so, I'm very uncomfortable indeed with demonstration bans on federal (public) property or, for that matter, with legislation that restricts political free speech in general. (As grotesque and offensive as Phelps' words and signs, they surely fall under that category.)

What do you think of this legislation and its implications, if indeed you think it has any? (If you think I'm crazy for opposing this measure or that I'm in any way sympathetic to Phelps and therefore want to whack me, fine, but I'd appreciate it if you would read my old posts first, so you know what I've said.)