Limits on the Noise
This last Tuesday, August 7, President Obama signed the Honoring America’s Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act of 2012. It’s a clumsy name for a bill that does many things. It will…
… help improve access to health care for veterans, streamline VA services, expand support for homeless veterans, and also provide extended medical care for veterans and their families who were based in Camp Lejeune in the years the water was contaminated there, and prohibit protesting at military funerals.
The part of this you may have heard about is the final phrase: “prohibit protesting at military funerals”.
Out of a collection of non-controversial provisions, that last one stands out. It bears special mention.
First note all the other things the bill does. As the President said in signing the bill,
It is going to improve access to health care, streamline services in the VA. It expands support for veterans who are homeless… [T]his bill ends a decade-long struggle for those who serve at Camp Lejeune. Some of the veterans and their families who were based in Camp Lejeune in the years when the water was contaminated will now have access to extended medical care.
The media is primarily focused on a different part. The bill prohibits protesting within 300 feet of a military funeral, within two hours before or after the funeral. There are significant penalties for violating this statute, including, for example, fines of “not less than $25,000 or more than $50,000 per violation.”
The church is known for its extreme and vocal stance on a number of issues, including Jews, movies, Islam, President Obama, Catholics, and “the media”. According to Westboro, God hates all these things. Little wonder, perhaps, that the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League both label Westboro as a “hate group”. They do seem to be obsessed with hate.
What is the connection between Westboro and military funerals? Westboro has been active in anti-gay activities since 1991, and for years has been staging protests at funerals, including the funeral of Matthew Shepard, a young man from Wyoming who was beaten to death by two men because of his homosexuality. They have been particular active at the funerals of military personnel. Congress has apparently had enough of this activity.
Setting aside the inconvenience and disrespect for the dead and for our men and women who serve our country, is there a problem here that needs to be addressed? Hate groups have targeted military bases for protests. Wade Michael Page, who allegedly shot and killed six people in the attack on a Sikh temple last Sunday, was stationed at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, in 1995 when a recruiter from a local White supremacist group was active there. That year, two neo-Nazi soldiers from the 82nd Airborne killed a black couple in nearby Fayetteville. It seems likely this latest mass shooting may have been influenced by these events. (By the way, is this the time yet to talk about gun control?)
Is there a connection between hate speech and acts of domestic terrorism? There are laws which restrict free speech rights in cases of incitement to violence or invitation to commit criminal acts. Is that sufficient reason to limit the ability of groups like Westboro to disrupt military funerals? Is the blatant disrespect for servicemen and women and their grieving relatives sufficient reason? If it is, should these restrictions be limited to military funerals? Shouldn’t the memory of Matthew Shepard and the grief of his relatives also be of concern?
Or does the need to oppose gays and lesbians override these issues? Is the danger to our society from a “homosexual agenda” a more pressing matter?
Or are all these worries misplaced? Does a free society need to accept all these dangers as the necessary price for freedom of speech?
What do you think?
- Obama Signs Law Limiting Westboro-Style Funeral Demonstrations (advocate.com)
- Honoring America’s Veterans Act Signed By Obama, Restricting Westboro Military Funeral Protests (huffingtonpost.com)
- Military Funeral Protesters Vow to Defy New Law (abcnews.go.com)
- This New Law May Spell The End Of Westboro Baptist Church Military Funeral Protests (businessinsider.com)
- Westboro Vows To Defy Rules After Congressional Smackdown (huffingtonpost.com)
- Obama Signs Camp Lejeune Act (personalliberty.com)
About dcpetterson (186 posts)
D. C. Petterson is a novelist and a software consultant in Minnesota who has been writing science fiction since the age of six. He is the author of A Melancholy Humour, Rune Song and Still Life. He lives with his wife, two dogs, two cats, and a lizard, and insists that grandchildren are the reward for having survived teenagers. When not writing stories or software, he plays guitar and piano, engages in political debate, and reads a lot of history and physics texts—for fun. Follow on Twitter @dcpetterson