Originally, it was my intent to not write anything about the shootings in Arizona. Frankly, what is there to say that has not already been said hundreds of times already by others. However, I heard on the radio that the Westboro Baptist Church plans to picket the funeral of the 9-year-old girl slain by the Satin worshiping druggy last Saturday.
In the off chance you don't know about the Westboro Baptist Church, they are an alleged religious group that protests the funerals of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. As you could imagine, this has generated numerous criminal and civil cases around the country.
As distasteful as it may be, protesting a military funeral is protected political speech only subject to regulation of time, place, and manner the way any other protest or rally is protected and regulated. While the patriot in me is repulsed by this conduct, the lawyer in me can see the free speech civil rights issue. War is a political act and technically this issue is pretty much down the fairway as a First Amendment issue. In a free society, people are free to be stupid, repugnant, and wrong and we are obliged to tolerate them. There is no right to be free from hurt feelings.
In my opinion, this "church" has used their conduct and these courts rulings to create a cash machine. What family member of the deceased, or any other loyal patriotic American, would not want to beat the snot out of these people, even if you didn't agree with the war? The war is not the deceased soldier's fault. It certainly is not the fault of the surviving family. Then after the attack they file suit against the individuals and local government authorities. Winning these cases just encourages more outrageous behavior.
Now they have announced their intent to protest the funeral of the 9-year-old girl who was slain last Saturday. The only thing the girl did wrong was to win a student election and be taken by a family friend to see her congresswoman at a public forum.
What in God's name is there to protest? How is this political speech? To me, it looks more like an incitement to riot, which is NOT protected speech. A "church" member is reported to have said, "Thank God for the shooter; six dead, your federal judge is dead and your fag promoting, baby killing, proud sinner Congresswoman fights for her life."
The Arizona State Legislature either has or is about to pass a law, which would prohibit picketing the funeral. This law will likely be found unconstitutional and will be struck down. However, it will give the Sheriff and local police the cover of law to have these people removed from the funeral until stricken down.
It seems to me that laws cannot cure all problems. Our society revels in its freedoms and generally eschews responsibilities. This makes it difficult to legislate standards of decency. Sometimes, it is up to the decent citizens to impress upon visitors and their neighbors what is decent and what is not socially acceptable.
Therefore, I suggest a better answer may exist. Although it may be legally a bit more complex, perhaps the Arizona Legislature, and the legislatures of other states, should consider something like this:
Specifically make it a criminal act to commit unarmed battery on people who protest funerals. Make it an infraction, or at most, a misdemeanor. The punishment should be a maximum of zero days in jail and a maximum fine of $1. Restitution should be capped at $1. Another law could be passed capping civil damages at $1.
Perhaps this would open up the marketplace of ideas. The ideas of the protesters could then compete on equal ground with the ideas of the mourners. Those with the strongest arguments should win. I suspect, it would put a pretty quick end to the outrageous behavior of the Westboro Baptist Church.