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First Amendment Rights or Not?

July 18, 2011 - John Stack
Last month, the Saratoga County Board of Supervisors passed a law that banned protests from within 500 feet of a military funeral or memorial service, 2 hours before the service, during, and 2 hours afterwards. I am 100 percent for this ban. This funeral ban is mostly in response to a recent ruling by the US Supreme Court that ruled that Fred Phelps delusional Kansas based church has the right to protest at military funerals.

Fred Phelps is well known up in these parts, as his ilk has come up to protest in Plattsburgh about the former mayor Brian Stewart (who is gay). His family/church are vociferous opponents of anything that has to do with homosexuality. They now have been claiming – straight from Fred Phelps daughter – that God actually caused George Bush to get involved with Iraq – in order to kill soldiers in an unwinnable war – to shine a light on the Westboro Baptist church’s message that the US is to be punished for our sins, most prominently for allowing homosexuality to persist.

The case the USSC heard had to do with a family who sued the church, and won a multi-million dollar settlement for pain and suffering caused by the church by protesting at a funeral for their son, a Marine who died in Iraq. The USSC ruled that what the church does is protected under the First Amendment. (In his 8-1 majority opinion chief judge John Roberts referenced their speech is protected much like flag burning is a form of First Amendment free speech) But, that localities can put reasonable restrictions in place for protests. If a politician dies, its understandable that people could protest, because they may have made decisions that affect many people at a policy level, but most importantly – they CHOSE to be public figures. Marine corps Lance Corporal Matthew Snyder had no such desires. He chose to join the Marines and serve his country. If there were people who wanted to protest the war, they should be kept as far away as possible during this time of mourning for the family. Protesting a funeral is entirely different than protesting at the White House, on a news show or an online blog. The right to free speech/the right to protest does not mean you get to protest anytime, anywhere in any manner you choose.

If I have a feud with a neighbor, that doesn’t give me the right to protest out in front of his house at 3AM with a bullhorn. I should not be allowed to stalk them to their work and scream at them from outside. And I surely should not be allowed to be at their funeral service to protest them. If the likes of Phelps want to protest, go do it somewhere else. In fact, the reason they won in court is because they went out of their way to not protest marine Snyder, but to use the funeral as a reason to protest the US. So why go to HIS funeral? Get a radio station. Get a newspaper. Leave our funerals alone.

Luckily, the Westboro Baptist church is so ideologically blinded; they day after day hurt their own cause. The church is made up of seemingly one tracked minds that have no idea HOW to solve their problem, but seem to only be able to identify (what they see) as the problem. When they protested in Plattsburgh, what they were able to accomplish was to take virtually every fence sitter ont eh subject of Mayor Stewart’s sexuality, and caused them to understand and become opponents of bigotry and hate. Many homophobes even changed their ways because of Phelps. No ad campaign or speaker could have come close to furthering the cause of tolerance in the Plattsburgh area than what Phelps family did. I had been wondering where the “church” was during the recent battle over gay marriage in Albany. If Phelps had put on a full court press and knocked on legislators doors about denying gay marriage, the vote would have been a much bigger victory. How many legislators would agree to align themselves with Phelps? People are selling their souls and gagging themselves at breakfast everyday then drinking their Kool Aid in order to back the likes of Bachman, Cantor and Palin. But even Phelps is too toxic.


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