After the tragic and senseless massacre in Tucson this week, Fred Phelps and his despicable band at the Westboro Baptist Church announced plans to protest at the funerals of the six people murdered. Arizona has acted to block those protests by passing a law creating “funeral protection zones” that bar political protests:
Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signed emergency legislation Tuesday establishing “funeral protection zones” to keep protesters away from the memorial services for the victims of Saturday’s shooting in Tucson.
Earlier in the day, the Arizona Legislature passed the bill unanimously. …
The law will establish a 300-foot perimeter around a funeral location beginning one hour before a service until one hour after a service.
A 300-foot perimeter? That won’t get any kudos from Peter King, who’s more into 1000-foot bubbles. It’s also not likely to bother the WBC vultures who prey on the grief of families and friends who just want to bury their dead in peace. They probably wouldn’t normally get within 300 feet anyway, and that kind of distance will still put them in range of the media, which is their primary goal anyway.
The WBC ghouls are despicable, but is this the right approach to take? The restrictions on speech will almost certainly get overturned on First Amendment grounds, especially if the restricted area is public property. In fact, it almost certainly will apply to public property; after all, owners of private property can bar people from entering already, and I doubt any funeral director would be happy to see the WBC idiots arriving en masse for one of his client’s funerals.
As much as the WBC disgusts me and most other people, the WBC have the right to make their political protests on public property, and the imposition of speech zones (or, more accurately, no-speech zones) is a bad precedent to set. What other no-speech zones should be established? Around the White House, for instance? Congress? College campuses? The temptation to do away with messy demonstrations of free speech can generate a lot of bad law.
Perhaps, though, Arizona already knows this, and doesn’t intend on defending the law too vigorously once challenged. The legislature may have quietly come to a consensus that a one-time imposition of this law for just these funerals would be enough — that Arizona had suffered enough from lunacy followed by irresponsible political blamethrowing, and deserved a break for these particular victims. If so, then I can’t condone the attempt to restrict free speech … but I can at least understand it. Nevertheless, it is a law that should be overturned.
Update: Patterico thinks it will pass muster, constitutionally. I don’t think we should be rooting for that outcome, though. Also, I replaced “it” with “WBC in the second-to-last paragraph to make clear exactly what disgusts me.