“I fully support our First Amendment rights. But I would love to put restrictions in it that [protesters] can’t be within 10 miles of a military funeral, not just 300 feet.”
It’s really very simple. People who say they support the Constitution “but” do not, in fact, support the Constitution. I don’t know who Gillespie is, and I don’t suppose he matters much. But I thought his remark to columnist Scott Sexton of the Winston-Salem Journal was a perfect illustration of that mentality.
Sexton was writing about a piece of legislation that would ban protests within 300 feet of a military funeral. Yesterday, President Bush signed the bill, called the “Respect for America’s Fallen Heroes Act.” (Here is the official announcement.) Violators risk being fined up to $100,000 or being imprisoned for as much as a year.
As with most assaults on free speech, this one would appear, on the face of it, to be an exception that everyone can live with. After all, it is aimed at the hatemongering Westboro Baptist Church, whose members — essentially Fred Phelps and his extended family — demonstrate at military funerals to espouse their demented belief that God is killing U.S. soldiers in Iraq because America has gone soft on homosexuality.
The pain caused by Phelps and his unmerry band is real. Listen to this NPR story from yesterday. You can’t help but be moved.
But, as we all know, you don’t need the First Amendment to protect the right to proclaim the goodness of motherhood and apple pie. You need it to protect vile, hateful statements that almost no one wants to listen to.
The legal scholar Vincent Blasi tells NPR that it’s unlikely the new law will survive a court challenge. So here we go again. Congress passes, and the president signs, a popular law aimed at stamping out offensive speech. The ACLU goes to court. The courts side with the Constitution. And the ACLU, along with “unelected judges,” are cast as enemies of America. Just this morning, I received a piece of false ACLU-bashing on a private list I subscribe to. The shame is that we’ve been so conditioned by this stuff that we actually believe it.
If those unfortunate American soldiers are dying in Iraq for anything noble, I’d like to think it’s to protect our freedoms. When you think about it, it’s almost profane that politicians would choose to honor their sacrifice by limiting our freedom of expression. But it’s not surprising, is it?
Heroes and zeroes: The bill passed the House on May 9 by a 408-3 vote. Among the all-Democratic Massachusetts delegation, only Barney Frank voted “no.” Marty Meehan did not vote. The rest all voted in favor of the bill and against freedom of speech: Ed Markey, Jim McGovern, John Tierney, John Olver, Mike Capuano and Bill Delahunt.
The bill passed the Senate on May 24 by unanimous consent.