Congress has passed an exception to the First Amendment, CNN reports:
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Demonstrators would be barred from disrupting military funerals at national cemeteries under legislation approved by Congress and sent to the White House.
The measure, passed by voice vote in the House Wednesday hours after the Senate passed an amended version, specifically targets a Kansas church group that has staged protests at military funerals around the country, claiming that the deaths were a sign of God's anger at U.S. tolerance of homosexuals.
The act "will protect the sanctity of all 122 of our national cemeteries as shrines to their gallant dead," Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tennessee, said prior to the Senate vote.
"It's a sad but necessary measure to protect what should be recognized by all reasonable people as a solemn, private and deeply sacred occasion," he said.
The group is the Westboro Baptist Church, which is basically just an anti-gay cult and hate group. Led by Fred Phelps, a maniac, Westboro has been picketing funerals for years. But the funerals they've protested in the past have been people who have died of AIDS. As long as that was happening, Frist and congress were apparently A-OK with it. But start picketing soldiers and then it becomes offensive.
Of course, this will be challenged and it will likely fail that challenge. As offensive as the protests are, they are clearly protected speech. Like a ban on flag burning, this ban would only stand as a constitutional amendment. Once again, congress pretends to do something.
Westboro is a group that sues for a living - there's no doubt that this will wind up in court. The cultists are nearly all lawyers - Phelps himself is a disbarred attorney. Similar bans have been passed by several states, Wisconsin included. Westboro hasn't mounted a serious challenge to these bans, perhaps because they knew that a federal ban was in the works. By challenging it on the federal level, all of these birds can be killed with one stone.
And it should be. Congress can't write laws that are exceptions to free speech guarantees. Rights are afforded to anyone, the hateful idiots as much as anyone else. If this law is allowed to stand, what other guarantees would be attacked, using this law as precedent? Does anyone believe that the right wouldn't want to stop people from protesting outside of military recruiters or gays protesting outside the GOP convention hall?
To a certain degree, limiting were you protest limits what you protest. If I can't picket outside a factory, how would anyone know I was on strike?
This is just a PR stunt, practically designed to fail. The best the right will be able to do with this is say they voted for it and scream about the 'activist judges' who struck it down - just as congress knew they would.