Saturday, April 11, 2009

Too Bad They Can't Outlaw the WBC

Nevada continues move to ban protests at funerals

Unless a small cadre of Nevada lawmakers have their way, the Westboro Baptist Church is about to find protesting at funerals in the state of Nevada to be a good deal more difficult.

The Nevada state Assembly Judiciary Committee recently gave the thumbs-up to a bill that would make it illegal to demonstrate or protest at a funeral with the intention to disrupt it.

As with many of these laws, the Westboro Baptist Church is a direct target of these laws. If outlawed from protesting at funerals, the WBC would find its protest opportunities growing fewer and further between.

Not all the members of the Nevada state legislature are believers in the bill.

"This same group protests outside of family planning clinics," said Las Vegas Assemblyman William Horne, a Democrat. "Why wouldn't we exclude that as well?"

"I find it abhorrent that a white supremacy group can walk down the middle of a black neighborhood," Horne added. "But I will defend their right to do that, despite the ugly history."

Horne's concerns seem to echo that of the American Civil Liberties Association, who are challenging a similar law in Michigan after Lewis Lowden was charged after participating in the funeral procession of a family friend who'd died fighting in Iraq while he had an anti-Bush sign taped in the window of his van.

In the wake of the latter example, it would be foolish to pretend that such laws cannot be abused, and the hate march example raised by Horne raises the question of how far a society should go in order to regulate offensive speech.

But by the same token, most people -- in the United States and elsewhere -- would agree that a funeral is regarded as a special case. It's expected to be a private, solemn time, and people attending funerals have the right to expect that such times will not be invaded by hatemongers looking for any forum to spread their vile message.

The problem could probably be solved by just outlawing the Westboro Baptist Church. It's too bad -- and strange -- that this act would be even more wrong.


  1. The thing about human rights and freedoms is that they also entail responsibilities. There are some lines that no one should cross.

    You can protest political or business conventions or conferences, you can protest outside a government building, you can write editorials, blogs or letters to the editor, or other settings that are part of the open, public arena. People are free to read or ignore your written opinions, and legislatures or political conferences are the natural place for discussion, debate and dissent.

    But when a person goes home for the day, or when they're spending personal time with their family, or they're otherwise in a very personal situation, they deserve to be left the hell alone. Criticize Stephen Harper or St├ęphane Dion all you like when they're in Parliament, or off giving a speech at an official function, but when they punch out for the day and go home they should not be bothered.

    Picketing should not be allowed at things like funerals, birthday parties, or other things like that. Nor should people have to put up with protesters when they're on their own private property.

    Yes, we have freedom of assembly and expression in this country, but as I understand it these things were primarily meant to be used in the public sphere or on public property, such as on city streets, in front of a legislature, or another place that's generally open to the public.

    If, on the other hand, someone finds picketers or reporters camped out on their private property, who are otherwise harassing them and disrupting their ordinary lives, those people have every right to call the police and have them force those people away.

    I have no idea if this is true, but a few years ago I heard an anecdote of some envrionmentalists who went to Ralph Klein's private residence and installed solar panels on his roof, while his wife was still inside. I'll criticize Klein any day of the week, but there's no excuse for trespassing on his private property and Klein or his wife would have been well within their rights to call the police and have those idiots charged with trespassing.

    Did this really happen, or is my memory wrong?

  2. Well, Jared, if someone trespassed on my property and installed solar panels on the roof -- increasing the value of my home, helping me decrease my annual energy costs, and helping me make my home more environmentally friendly, I don't think I'd complain very much... at least not after the fact.

    To me, the trouble with these laws is that, in the Michigan case, they have been abused in the past.

    I don't think that's any reason to strike them from the books, but reforms are evidently needed.

  3. Wouldn't it be far simpler to just recognize the WBC as a religious cult, and destroy the organization altogether?

  4. Well, Antonio, it isn't illegal to hate gays, and most civilized nations guarantee religious freedom.

    I could never support outlawing the WBC, as much as I detest them.


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