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LOS ANGELES DAILY NEWS EDITORIAL: Loathsome to protest the funerals of those who gave their lives for freedom
May 25, 2012
THERE are few nonviolent acts as loathsome as disrupting a funeral, let alone a funeral of a man or woman who gave their life in service to this country and its freedom. Members of the Westboro (Kansas) Baptist Church disagree. Church members take their anti-military, anti-gay, anti-Catholic and anti-Semitic protests around the country. They display hateful picket signs and mug for cameras. They don't care about anyone's feelings but their own distorted ones. They do not understand the very basics of their religion, which preaches tolerance and forgiveness.
But at loathsome as this behavior may be, it is protected. The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the right of those church members to conduct peaceful protests, noting in a case involving a military funeral in Maryland that they were on public land and more than 1,000 feet away from the funeral.
It is ironic that the Westboro Baptist Church hides behind the First Amendment, a basic right for which millions of Americans have died - sacrifices that that we honor today.
State Sen. Ted Lieu, D-Torrance, has written a bill, SB 661, that would join California with other states that limit protests at funerals. Lieu's bill would require picketers to stay at least 500 feet away from funerals. Violators would be charged with a misdemeanor. Gov. Brown vetoed a similar bill last year on the grounds that it was unconstitutional. Lieu's new effort reduces the distance from 1,000 feet to 500 feet. He believes this would adhere to the Supreme Court's guidelines.
Perhaps, but there is better way to fight funeral protests than a law that may limit free speech. It was demonstrated recently in the Northern California town of Anderson, near Redding. Hundreds of residents lined the route of a military funeral procession and drowned out a threatened protest by the church members. This was a heart-warming display of patriotism.
Most Americans do not believe, as the church members do, that "God is hateful." Many believe that God does not want wars, but that it sometimes is necessary to preserve freedom and protect our country's well-being.
Memorial Day is a time to honor our fallen servicemen and women and to think about our national values. Of course, many Americans' immediate concerns this weekend are more practical: the gas prices that make their three-day trips more expensive, and the trouble finding a parking space at the mall.
Patriotic parades on Memorial Day fill us with pride. Visits to cemeteries evoke memories for survivors. Amid such lofty emotions, hate-mongers fill us with disgust. But if there is anything Americans have learned as their young men and women fight and die to protect our freedoms, is that free speech - even disgusting speech - is a constitutional right that should not restricted. Just as Americans fought in wars to protect free speech, good citizens can rise up and make their views known, as they did in Northern California.
That kind of peaceful protest truly honors our fallen Americans.