A Different Take
I still don't think that the bans on funeral protests violate the First Amendment. But Michelle Cottle at TNR has given me a better reason to oppose such bans:
Americans are supposed to be self-sufficient, spunky, strong-willed, independent types. So why is it that any time some drooling imbecile wolf-whistles at a gal on the street, or a drunk frat boy tosses off a racial slur, or some Bible thumper starts ranting about how all gays, Jews, feminists, Frenchmen, Anabaptists, and recovering Kerry voters are on the fast track to hell, we start speed dialing our congressmen about drafting a bill to ban Behavior X? Then we phone our lawyer to see if a civil suit is possible. As dangerously frail and legalistic as this nation is becoming, it's only a matter of time before someone decides that the future of the republic is in peril unless we immediately pass a constitutional amendment banning trash talk at basketball games.
Before anyone starts freaking out, let me clarify that I'm all for laws that prevent the flagrant abuse of power, such as in superior-subordinate interactions in the workplace, school, military, etc. Nor am I arguing in defense of stalking or other truly menacing behavior.
But not every ugly word or hateful poster is a threat. And by larding the list of legally proscribed behavior, we run the risk of infantilizing the entire populace, of convincing ourselves that the state is responsible for shielding us from any and all unpleasantness. With that operating philosophy, we might as well invite the NSA to tap all our phone lines to make sure none of us is bothered by an obscene caller ever again.
She also goes well more into the background of where these laws came from, and abou the human garbage that is Fred Phelps. Rejoining it with the statement "even if you're not worried about the Constitution, you should be worried about our individual constitutions." This is pretty compelling reasoning to me, as it appeals to the notion that there's nothing inherently wrong about the funeral bans (I don't think there is), but that they are just plain a bad idea and a bad step for our society and do evermore to prop up an interventionist government. Also, as far as $teve-o's suggestion about handling Phelps not with the law but with a good old-fashioned slug-fest, Cottle calls our attention to one group who is already on the case.
The Alabama chapter of an organization called the Patriot Guard Riders announced they would be attending the funeral of Sgt First Class Stephen J. White, the first Talladega native to die in the Iraq war.
According to a press release, the group’s primary objectives are to "Show our sincere respect for our fallen heroes, their families and their communities (and) to shield the mourning family and friends from interruptions created by any protester or group of protesters."
The group is made up primarily of motorcyclists, most of who are also military veterans.
Specifically, the PGR will be shielding the family from an announced protest by the Rev. Fred Phelps and the members of Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kans.
I'm sure Phelps' hate squad is given a pretty good pause by this biker gang.