Does Congress’ new funeral protest law help the troops?

posted at 2:01 pm on August 8, 2012 by Dustin Siggins

On Monday, President Obama signed the Honoring America’s Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act of 2012 into law. Among other things, the law puts specific restrictions into place for protestors at military funerals. From Huffington Post:

The new law will have strong implications for the Westboro Baptist Church, a Kansas-based organization…Westboro Baptist Church has drawn media attention for its brand of protest, which frequently links the deaths of soldiers to America’s growing acceptance of gays.

Under the new legislation, protests must be held at least 300 feet from military funerals and are prohibited two hours before or after a service. The law counters a 2011 Supreme Court ruling, which found that displays such as Westboro’s were protected under the First Amendment.

Jazz Shaw wrote about this over the weekend, and I agree with him that it’s mostly unconstitutional pandering instead of actual veteran-positive legislation:

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…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.

In debating this with a buddy on Facebook last night, he brought up the point that the funerals are at least partially funded by the federal government, so why can’t the federal government dictate who can and cannot be near or at the funerals? While I think that’s a good discussion point, and one I hadn’t considered prior to the discussion, the First Amendment still applies here – and while these scumbags really are “cruisin’ for a bruisin’,” they are also still American citizens not calling for violence against their fellow human beings. As such, their First Amendment rights should be intact — local zoning laws notwithstanding, which is where such laws should be promulgated anyway.

As a side note, to take off from Jazz’s point, this part of the law really does seem mostly about pandering. One of the most frustrating things about working for Congress was how much self-praise went on in press releases and the like when authorizing military spending to provide pay, benefits, etc. for the troops. Nowhere else do people want credit for providing basic financial necessities (previously agreed upon, no less) to people who provide a service – you don’t see restaurant managers boasting about providing paychecks every week to employees, for example. They just provide the paycheck as recompense for work provided.

If Congress really wants to do some good for the American people, it could decide to actually run a war effectively, unlike what happened in Iraq and Afghanistan. Or it could take better care of our veterans through more funding and more effectively used funding, since many are coming back with PTSD, and suicide rates are at record-high levels. Also, large numbers of veterans are homeless, especially younger veterans, which is just terrible. Or it could simply decide not to sacrifice the troops in wars promoted purely for political purposes (such as Obama’s infusion of troops into Afghanistan, which I do believe was done to balance out criticisms from his left and right flanks).

This law does provide a series of expanded benefits to veterans, so Congress deserves credit for that, but by adding the section about protests it not only oversteps its boundaries but puts a dangerous precedent in place for protests.

Note: I spent eight years in the Army Reserves and National Guard, but never went overseas. As such, my opinion on this whole situation definitely lacks first-hand experience, especially since I have lost only one friend to service overseas and no protests were seen at his funeral. I decided to ask my friend Jeff Nader,a ten-year Army veteran who served one tour in Iraq and currently works as an air traffic controller at Otis Coast Guard Base on Cape Cod, his opinion on the law and its potential implications:

I think the timing of this law is suspicious, what with an election coming up. I think Obama and Congress are indeed pandering, and Obama especially because he wants support from people right-of-center. These are the people who typically pride themselves on being exceedingly pro-military. This gives him pro-military credentials in November.

I also think it could violate First Amendment rights.

I give the Westboro crowd credit, though – their legal people have correctly analyzed and followed the applicable laws. While some will always abuse freedoms, targeting small groups in ways that could eventually impact everyone is something we should be cautious of.

 


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Constitutional Law Professor Barack Hussein Obama knows better than you what is constitutional and what is not — he’s a Constitutional Law Professor for pete’s sake!

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FlatFoot on August 8, 2012 at 2:04 PM

Doesn’t this law have some kind of restriction on protest at political rallies also and is that not the real reason for the law while using the military funeral thing as a smoke screen?

bgibbs1000 on August 8, 2012 at 2:05 PM

This gives him pro-military credentials in November.

It does?

Sorry but canceling a hit on Bin Laden 3 times because dolt Valerie Jarrett told him too cancels out this little bit of inconsequential pandering.

Bishop on August 8, 2012 at 2:05 PM

This is just what we need. Things will surely be better in this country if we can just pass more laws.

/

Lost in Jersey on August 8, 2012 at 2:08 PM

This gives him pro-military credentials in November.

It does?

Sorry but canceling a hit on Bin Laden 3 times because dolt Valerie Jarrett told him too cancels out this little bit of inconsequential pandering.

Bishop on August 8, 2012 at 2:05 PM

Well and not to mention that fact that Tricare had a 700 million dollar surplus and they are still raising healthcare fees on retirees..

melle1228 on August 8, 2012 at 2:10 PM

Can Congress set the fine for assaulting a Westboro Church member at $1? Because that would be an efficient and effective solution.

NoDonkey on August 8, 2012 at 2:12 PM

In debating this with a buddy on Facebook last night, he brought up the point that the funerals are funded by the federal government

This is not necessarily true. There are stipends for certain aspects of a military funeral but the final ceremony may not be funded solely by the federal government. Interment in a family plot, for example. A headstone other than the military one. etc.

And having been present at one of Westboro’s shameful demonstrations, I’ve seen firsthand that these are some sick people. But, the law really is pandering. But I do have to disagree with your anti-government screed that the government is pretty much abandoning the returning troops. If anything, more attention to things like PTSD, re-employment of Reservists, retraining, etc. has been the norm in the past decade than the previous experience. The real problem is that our society is not set up for prolonged warfare and things are fraying around the edges. Which is what you would expect when you have a fighting force made up of many individuals who have had multiple deployments to combat zones. And, of course, a political party chomping at the bit to gut the DoD budget for their entitlement programs.

Happy Nomad on August 8, 2012 at 2:14 PM

Can Congress set the fine for assaulting a Westboro Church member at $1? Because that would be an efficient and effective solution.

NoDonkey on August 8, 2012 at 2:12 PM

I can imagine the number of people throwing down a $20 bill with the comment- let me know when that runs out.

Happy Nomad on August 8, 2012 at 2:16 PM

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…Dr. James Joyner weighs in, describing the bill as little more than pandering and an unfortunate incursion on first amendment rights.

Pandering or not…enough is enough with this bullsh!t.

Sometimes you have to do what is right regardless of the laws that protect these parasites.

All they deserve is a dam# good a$$ kicking.

I threw a punch at one of them at Bush’s 04 inauguration and got kicked back by the police……
….that’s fine and they have the law on their side.

But these people go to far and as far as I’m concerned…they deserve a first rate beat down every time hurl their diseased vitriol at our Soldiers and their grieving families.

I know I’m wrong on the merits….but situations like these I don’t care…..they are filthy scum and should be left bleeding on top of their hateful signs.

Baxter Greene on August 8, 2012 at 2:18 PM

Happy Nomad,

I know that some aspects of funerals are not paid by the government — I will change to “at least partially.” Thanks.

Regarding the “screed,” as you called it, I do think Congress is often not doing its job to take care of the troops, as indicated by the number of deployments, among other things — meaning the wars have been run inefficiently.

DoD spending does need to go down, in my opinion, but never without major entitlement, tax, and regulatory agency reforms.

Dustin Siggins on August 8, 2012 at 2:19 PM

It looks like this new law just adds a few tweaks to a previously-enacted law in the 109th Congress (H.R. 5037, signed into law by President Bush). And the language in the new law, just like that of H.R. 5037, includes operative language taken verbatim from an anti-protest statute that was upheld by the Supreme Court in a case called Grayned v. City of Rockford. For more details, here’s a discussion of H.R. 5037 that came up when I googled it: http://votesmart.org/public-statement/173475/respect-for-americas-fallen-heroes-act

Mervis Winter on August 8, 2012 at 2:20 PM

I think the timing of this law is suspicious, what with an election coming up. I think Obama and Congress are indeed pandering, and Obama especially because he wants support from people right-of-center. These are the people who typically pride themselves on being exceedingly pro-military. This gives him pro-military credentials in November.

I also think it could violate First Amendment rights.

Schadenfreude on August 8, 2012 at 2:23 PM

But these people go to far and as far as I’m concerned…they deserve a first rate beat down every time hurl their diseased vitriol at our Soldiers and their grieving families.

I know I’m wrong on the merits….but situations like these I don’t care…..they are filthy scum and should be left bleeding on top of their hateful signs.

Baxter Greene on August 8, 2012 at 2:18 PM

Your actions are only encouraging the Protestors.

They are a cult (not because they are a religion, but are an actual cult). Cults thrive on “Us vs. Them” stuff to keep control over their members.

When people do what you do, your just reinforcing to them that they are the being persecuted.

If people left them alone their group would die off.

Bluray on August 8, 2012 at 2:23 PM

Maybe someone can help me out, but I don’t really see anything that seems like “pandering” here.

Now, I’m pro-military, and truly believe that the Phelps phreaks of WBC are total scum of the Earth…lower than scum, actually. But I do have to side with SCOTUS in believing people do have the constitutional right to protest the funeral of anybody…even when they’re chanting hate and carrying those signs I’m sure I don’t need to describe.

Thank God for the motorcycle groups nationwide that will show up at a soldier’s funeral at the request of the family of the deceased. They bring a lot of large American flags to block the WBC turds and their signs, and rev their bikes to drown out the chanting. Much respect from me for that.

But yeah, as the saying goes, the bill of rights/constitution isn’t there to protect popular people or issues or ideas…it’s there for doosh-bags like WBC. When all is said and done, they’ll have to face our Creator and He’ll know what to do with them.

JetBoy on August 8, 2012 at 2:27 PM

Constitutional Law Professor Barack Hussein Obama knows better than you what is constitutional and what is not — he’s a Constitutional Law Professor for pete’s sake!

/

FlatFoot on August 8, 2012 at 2:04 PM

Does Kenya even have a constitution?

pilamaye on August 8, 2012 at 2:36 PM

I do think Congress is often not doing its job to take care of the troops, as indicated by the number of deployments, among other things — meaning the wars have been run inefficiently.

DoD spending does need to go down, in my opinion, but never without major entitlement, tax, and regulatory agency reforms.

Dustin Siggins on August 8, 2012 at 2:19 PM

You came off a little strident. But if you want Congress to be more concerned, do away with the damned War Powers Act and make Congress go on the record with a vote if we are going to engage in combat operations for a prolonged period of time! Nothing disgusted me more than Democrats like Harry Reid or Jack Murtha. Jay Rockefeller and Teddy Kennedy who planned to leak stuff before the 2004 election to paint the idea that the war was lost. Or Obama who dithered as President and refused to make any strategic decisions about Afghanistan and only showed up at Dover AFB for a poltical stunt.

And yes, as combat operations wind down, the DoD budget should be decreased but keep in mind that there have been combat operations for over a decade and equipment/platforms are aging. But even worse, the cuts seem to be based on sticking it to retirees and the active duty troops instead of a meaningful strategy for national defense and security.

Happy Nomad on August 8, 2012 at 2:37 PM

Does Kenya even have a constitution?

pilamaye on August 8, 2012 at 2:36 PM

Good question. I do not know.

But maybe foreign exchange student Barack Obama wrote a paper about it — and if he ever releases his college documents maybe we’ll find out.

FlatFoot on August 8, 2012 at 2:40 PM

Maybe someone can help me out, but I don’t really see anything that seems like “pandering” here.

JetBoy on August 8, 2012 at 2:27 PM

Defense cuts are coming. Troops and retirees are going to be forced to pay more for their families healthcare. This is a cheap and meaningless gesture that Obama and members of Congress will use to say that they are pro-military. Who is going to be against something called “Honoring America’s Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act of 2012″ even as you gut the DoD?

Happy Nomad on August 8, 2012 at 2:43 PM

Happy Nomad,

I’m shocked you say I came across as strident! Shocked, I say! ;o)

I do think we should declare war by a congressional vote every time we do prolonged combat operations, or even most combat operations period.

The cuts should impact retirees and troops last. I have done some research on this in the last few months, and think the easiest and most effective areas to hit are the following:

1. Cost overruns — I’m not sure how changes would work, but we need changed badly.

2. Get rid of the silly congressional mandates on minority-owned businesses doing X percent, veteran-owned doing Y percent, etc.

3. Audit the Pentagon, and look at the fraud/waste/abuse/duplicity therein. GAO and other groups have said DoD is at huge risk for fraud and waste.

Dustin Siggins on August 8, 2012 at 2:45 PM

Bluray on August 8, 2012 at 2:23 PM

….I understand your point and know that I am wrong on the merits of this…
…but personally….these people go to far.

I kind of look at it in the same way that certain family situations play out.

My wife’s sister and her husband lived with her parents for a time due to financial difficulties.The guy was a bum and an ex-con.
Within weeks my wife got a call from her dad that he was threatening them in their own home.Her dad at the time was dying of cancer and the mother was fighting ovarian cancer.
When she told me about this….I tracked them down that day at the DMV……went in and beat him down and told him not to come back to the house.
I knew I it was wrong and I would be arrested….but some things deserve direct action.
It worked…they left that day which meant that my wife’s Mother and Father were fine.Calling the Police on him would not have produced these results….they would have rode it out…made nice and gotten the charges dropped.
Charges against me were dropped due to the fact he refused to show up in court.
I was not legally right to do what I did….but it sent a clear message that this was not going to be tolerated and they would not be able to hide behind the law to get away with it.

I tend to look at these Westboro people in the same way.They act like this because they know they can get away with it ….no real consequences….and they actually sue in a quick hurry.
Right or wrong…..I think getting a first rate a$$ kicking every time they pull this would stop this shameful,over the top hatred that makes heart breaking situations like military funerals even more stressful and painful.

Now I know that these very Soldiers fight for the rights for this scum to do what they do…..and like I said earlier…I have no legal leg to stand on concerning my position….and know there would be a legal price to pay for the actions I support…..it’s just what I think they deserve.I weigh out the pros and cons and feel that a few days in jail,community service,and possibly a fine are worth giving this scum what they deserve.

Baxter Greene on August 8, 2012 at 2:45 PM

Flamingly un-Constitutional.

ConservativeLA on August 8, 2012 at 2:46 PM

It doesn’t matter if it’s the Westboro Baptist goons, neo-nazis, or communists. No matter how offensive their speech is, it is protected against government censorship. This legislation is dead wrong and blatantly unconstitutional.

MadisonConservative on August 8, 2012 at 2:48 PM

Baxter Greene on August 8, 2012 at 2:45 PM

MadisonConservative on August 8, 2012 at 2:48 PM

ConservativeLA on August 8, 2012 at 2:46 PM

Hear hear!!

Scrumpy on August 8, 2012 at 2:58 PM

I can imagine the number of people throwing down a $20 bill with the comment- let me know when that runs out.

[Happy Nomad on August 8, 2012 at 2:16 PM]

As much as I disagree with assaulting them, that was hilarious.

Dusty on August 8, 2012 at 3:26 PM

[Scrumpy on August 8, 2012 at 2:58 PM]

Doing the work so I don’t have to …

Me five!

Dusty on August 8, 2012 at 3:28 PM

It’s just another ‘feel good’ law. Won’t accomplish anything, but the pols will ‘feel good’ that they passed it.

GarandFan on August 8, 2012 at 3:44 PM

“Mostly unconstitutional pandering”??

Mostly unconstitutional???

It is flat out unconstitutional and anti-free speech. No two ways about it.

Dante on August 8, 2012 at 4:15 PM

Note: I spent eight years in the Army Reserves and National Guard, but never went overseas. As such, my opinion on this whole situation definitely lacks first-hand experience

Completely irrelevant to one being able to recognize unconstitutional law and infringement upon rights.

Dante on August 8, 2012 at 4:18 PM

It doesn’t matter if it’s the Westboro Baptist goons, neo-nazis, or communists. No matter how offensive their speech is, it is protected against government censorship. This legislation is dead wrong and blatantly unconstitutional.

MadisonConservative on August 8, 2012 at 2:48 PM

Read the article again.

The government is not censoring their speech — they’re just ever so gently constraining it to where and when.

You know — kind of like how the most honest, ethical and transparent presidential administration in the history of teh whirled has already done long ago with protesters who want to protest outside of venues in the U.S. with his anti-protest Trespass Bill, H.R. 347 (the Federal Restricted Buildings and Grounds Improvement Act of 2011), officially making it a federal offense to cause a disturbance at certain political events.

The Secret Service are dispatched to monitor special events of national significance, a category with a broad cast of qualifiers. In the past, political conventions, sporting events, state funerals, inaugural addresses and NATO and G-8 Summits have been designated as such by the US Department of Homeland Security, the division that decides when and where the Secret Service are needed outside of their normal coverage. Now protesters are limited by federal law as to where and when they can protest those venues thanks to the current Preezy of the United Steezy.

And — lest we all forget — the President can now also detain you for getting too close to his White House front yard, order your assassination if he considers you a threat, and lock you away — ostensibly for life — with no charges if you’re simply just convincingly alleged to be a terrorist.

This Westboro Baptist Church thingy is a total nothing burger when tallied with the rest of the big picture. It really is.

FlatFoot on August 8, 2012 at 4:18 PM

The government is not censoring their speech — they’re just ever so gently constraining it to where and when.

This Westboro Baptist Church thingy is a total nothing burger when tallied with the rest of the big picture. It really is.

FlatFoot on August 8, 2012 at 4:18 PM

I’m going to assume this is meant as sarcasm.

Dante on August 8, 2012 at 4:36 PM

This gives him pro-military credentials in November.

It does?

Sorry but canceling a hit on Bin Laden 3 times because dolt Valerie Jarrett told him too cancels out this little bit of inconsequential pandering.

Bishop on August 8, 2012 at 2:05 PM

Well and not to mention that fact that Tricare had a 700 million dollar surplus and they are still raising healthcare fees on retirees..

melle1228 on August 8, 2012 at 2:10 PM

~~~~~~

Saw your response last night to me in the other thread (not til this morning!)…thanks for responding…I was just thinking this same thing, as you, why not show some real care for the military by doing something real, instead of an empty gesture like this.

ellifint on August 8, 2012 at 4:58 PM

I give the Westboro crowd credit, though – their legal people have correctly analyzed and followed the applicable laws

Of course they have. I honestly believe that the Westboro s don’t care one way or another about the military or homosexuals… they just want to provoke people into actions they can sue over.

malclave on August 8, 2012 at 5:54 PM

Pass a law stating that law enforcement is not allowed within 3 miles of a military funeral, and the problem will get solved on it’s own:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BZGKx2pTBQc

Not sure what the event was the WBC scum was protesting that time. But the result at a military funeral would be… severe if there were no police protection for them.

Hog Wild on August 8, 2012 at 7:04 PM

The government is not censoring their speech — they’re just ever so gently constraining it to where and when.

FlatFoot on August 8, 2012 at 4:18 PM

I would expect that kind of shallow thinking from you.

MadisonConservative on August 8, 2012 at 8:59 PM

I despise Westboro with every fiber of my being. But this this unconstitutional law should be overturned. It’s the kind of thing that could be misused against our rightful liberties tomorrow by the Obama administration.

No central government can be trusted with this kind of power.

J.E. Dyer on August 8, 2012 at 11:19 PM