Friday, December 03, 2010

Free speech and disruption of soldiers' funerals (Corrected)

I just came across this op-ed from a couple of weeks ago by Jim Zumwalt, Why protests at funerals should be tolerated Stars and Stripes 11/16/2010.

The issue in question is the protests being staged by the far-right, bitterly anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church, at soldiers' funerals around the country. In a lawsuit now before the Supreme Court, Albert Snyder v. Fred W. Phelps, Sr., the court is considering whether free speech permits such protests.

I hesitate to comment on a case like this where I have dug have not dug into the details. But what I've thought about this issue all along is that there surely must be a legal way to prevent the actual disruption of funerals, presumably most of which are religious services of some kind. Freedom of speech and assembly also means protection against people disrupting church services or other legally-held events. On the other hand, I never thought that a group, even one with as noxious a message as Phelps' group, could or should be completely prevented from hold a demonstration in the general proximity of a funeral.

Zumwalt's op-ed made me more curious about the specifics of this case. Like many such arguments, he relies on speculation about implications on other kinds of speech, anti-Islam speech in particular.

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