Sad Commentary

Being a journalist, I'm no great fan of restrictions on free speech, yet I can't help but feel sympathetic towards the state legislatures that have ...
by | April 5, 2006

Being a journalist, I'm no great fan of restrictions on free speech, yet I can't help but feel sympathetic towards the state legislatures that have been lining up to ban protests at funerals. The Iowa House passed such a ban yesterday, joining at least half a dozen other states. Illinois will soon follow.

Not surprisingly, the legislation has been sparked by protests at military funerals. More surprisingly, the protesters haven't been anti-war demonstrators.

Instead, they have been members of the Westboro Baptist Church, based in Topeka, Kansas, whose minister, Fred Phelps, is a notorious homophobe. And that's what the protests are about. The picketers contend that U.S. war casualties are God's way of punishing this country for tolerating homosexuality. (The church's Web address is godhatesfags.com.)

Members of the congregation will be here in Washington tomorrow, first gathering outside Congress, then visiting Walter Reed Hospital. The group's flier for the latter event says "Thank God for IEDs" (improvised explosive devices) and "Thank God for Cripple Soldiers [sic]."

Leaving aside any commentary on that sort of sentiment, there is a time and a place for it, as well as for everything else. Congress seems the right place to bring an angry protest. Military funerals, and the care wards of sick and dying soldiers, certainly are not.