Protesting at military funerals must be banned

November 1, 2010 — by Will Edman

When the First Amendment was penned, the Founding Fathers could not have foreseen the controversies that would surround the five basic rights that were guaranteed to all American citizens.

In the last century, however, controversies such as the Tinker v. Des Moines Supreme Court case, which arose when three students were suspended for wearing armbands protesting the Vietnam war to school, have led Americans to question whether freedom of expression should be limited.

In the past half-decade, a group of protesters led by Westboro Baptist Church, based in Topeka, Kans., have picketed funerals of homosexual people and soldiers who died in combat, holding signs with radical messages, such as “God Hates Fags” and “Thank God for Dead Soldiers.”

These protesters maintain that their First Amendment rights give them the right to protest anywhere they choose, but their blatantly insensitive actions have drawn the ire of the global community. In fact, a Facebook group titled “Make it illegal to protest at military funerals!” has drawn more than 60,000 members. As a result of this controversy, the Supreme Court is deciding a case involving a lawsuit filed by Albert Snyder, whose son’s military funeral was picketed by Westboro Baptist Church members.

American citizens, who should operate with grace and dignity, have no business doing such a deplorable act. Protesting at a military funeral is not only indecent, disrespectful of the dead, and traumatic to the family of the victim, but it is also a mockery of the government and military as well as a cheap way to gain attention.

A funeral is regarded as a symbolic opportunity for a family to say goodbye to a loved one, but the protesting and media attention given to Westboro Baptist Church members can only serve to increase a family’s pain at a loss as tragic as a son or daughter lost in battle in a foreign country. The extent of the rights that Americans are guaranteed is only to a point where the rights of others are not infringed. In the case of the protesters, they are denying families the right to peacefully bury their children.

Although most Americans would agree that the picketing of funerals is indecent, the issue is that the protesters’ actions fall under their First Amendment rights. However, the Supreme Court has set a precedent before that the First Amendment has exceptions, such as when it ruled that First Amendment rights can be limited within schools. A step that must be taken is to make harassment in the form of protest illegal at funerals.

In this case, the right of protest would not be abolished, but rather just asked to leave the grounds of a hushed graveyard. The judicial branch was created to ensure that the rights of all Americans are protected through by ruling on important cases such as Albert Snyder’s against Westboro Baptist Church. Protesting at funerals must be declared illegal to protect families and the process of honoring the dead.

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