Thursday, September 16, 2010

Protesting military funerals - freedom of speech or abomination?

The Supreme Court is set to hear a First Amendment case that will undoubtedly have a dire outcome.

The case, Snyder v. Phelps, surrounds the protesting of military funerals by a religious group hell bent on using a service member’s death to further the group’s agenda.

As an American, I’m deeply conflicted by the possible outcomes. How could any Marine - much less one with almost 13 years in the Corps - be conflicted on such a topic?

On one hand, it appalls me that people will turn a fellow Marine’s funeral into a political stunt. After all, that Marine died serving his country, and there are people carrying signs at his funeral saying things like, “THANK GOD FOR DEAD SOLDIERS,” all the while asserting they’re exercising their First Amendment right to free speech?! That Marine died protecting their right to protest, and they thank him by protesting at his graveside?!

The protesters strongly contend a service member’s funeral should not be off-limits to protests. (Note - the actual court case does not seek to answer that question. It seeks only to address one person’s claim of damages as a result of offensive messages.)

I’ve seen talk across the wondrous Internet about establishing guidelines whereby protesters would have to maintain a standoff distance, and a couple weeks ago (Aug. 27), a court struck down a Missouri law prohibiting protests of military funerals within an hour of the start or finish.

Here’s my confliction: While it disgusts me to hear of these protests, it deeply troubles me that Americans would actually be talking about putting such limits on their own freedom of speech. See, if a limit is placed on protesting at a military funeral, it’s reasonable to assume that same limit can be placed elsewhere. Do we just say there will be no protesting at funerals in general? What then sets funerals above any other gathering? It can’t be the religious aspect, because prohibiting a protest at a religious gathering could then be construed as both a violation of the Constitutionally protected right to assemble as well as to practice a chosen religion.

In highly emotional matters like this, many people seem to struggle with separating the feelings in their heart from the rational thought required to reach a decision.

My heart aches every time I see a picture or video of a service member’s funeral being protested by people I believe to be misguided. At the same time, I swore an oath to support and defend the Constitution, even if that means I don’t agree with the outcome.

Perhaps the protesters could use expend their energy lobbying the elected representatives who run the country. Regardless, this is one of those times when just because something is technically correct doesn’t mean it’s right. I believe the protesters do have the right to protest; however, I also believe they should honor the fallen warriors and their families by not doing so.

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