I managed to miss this one when it first came up, but the “do nothing Congress” apparently stirred themselves to do something before they headed out the door for summer vacation. The “Honoring America’s Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act of 2012” managed to pass muster and awaits the President’s signature. According to the new bill – introduced by Olympia Snowe – protesters will be prevented from picketing military funerals two hours before or after a service, and they will be restricted to staying at least 300 feet from the grave.
Given how these cretins are pretty much universally despised, many of us might find this a bit of good cheer during the dog days of summer. Unfortunately, the legislation seems to have one major flaw. It’s pretty much identical to previous attempts to muzzle the hate group which have already been shot down by the Supreme Court. Dr. James Joyner weighs in, describing the bill as little more than pandering and an unfortunate incursion on first amendment rights.
Look, I hate these Westboro dirtbags as much as the next guy. Their message is vile and their targets innocent. But the Supreme Court has ruled that picketing funerals is protected by the First Amendment. It was an 8-1 ruling, with only Justice Alito dissenting.
While the 300 foot buffer zone is certainly permissible—indeed, the Westboro cretins observed a 1000 foot buffer in the case decided by the Supreme Court—the two hour window is almost surely not. So say that you can’t picket near a funeral while said funeral is going on is effectively ban it. And the Supreme Court has already said that the activity is protected by the Constitution.
I hate to say it, but this certainly does smell of pandering. There’s no easier path to public praise for politicians than to do something to support our military and veterans. (And rightly so.) But there’s a difference between doing something substantive to help them and just passing a bill which you know will get shot down just so you can look like you’re being tough on the protesters. If the government can regulate speech to the point where they can prevent you from showing up two hours before until two hours after an event, that would be a precedent which could very quickly get out of control.
Protecting our right to free speech unfortunately means occasionally protecting speech we all abhor. I imagine that the Westboro crew has enough cash and lawyers left to challenge this act the moment it’s signed into law and any judge hearing the request will doubtless issue an immediate injunction preventing it from being enforced. Sad to say, but this vote was likely little more than an exercise in futility. And, yes… pandering.