To counteract the plans of Westboro Baptist Church to protest the funerals of the Tucson, Ariz., shooting victims, radio announcers offered airtime in exchange for the group’s avoidance of the funerals. Tucson residents also prepared to shield the families’ eyes from the demonstrations.
The most drastic measure taken was a new law, passed rather speedily by Arizona legislators, that prohibits protests near funerals and burial sites.
The infamous church from Topeka, Kan., commonly protests funerals of fallen soldiers, claiming it is God’s punishment on the U.S. for its acceptance of homosexuality. Last week, church members prepared to make their presence known at the funeral of two victims of the Tucson tragedy, one being 9-year-old Christina Green. She had hopes of becoming a politician, of helping her country, of making her voice heard in a positive way, unlike the people of Westboro, who decided to make their voices heard by adding to the pain of the family of this innocent and precious child.
The law makes it a misdemeanor to protest within 300 feet of funerals, burial grounds, churches, homes and other related places an hour before, during or after any funeral service in Arizona. This emergency legislation was passed unanimously to guard the victims’ families from the hurtful words that might be present at the funerals. It does not outlaw protesting, it just mandates the protests’ locations.
The First Amendment rights to freedom of speech for Westboro Baptist Church may have been slightly modified, and although the law is not entirely constitutional, it is a move of human compassion. At the heart of it, the purpose of the government is, and should be, the protection of its people, and the best 8212; and most needed 8212; protection the Arizona government could give was to the broken families of Tucson.
Yes, free speech is a right. But there is also an unspoken duty 8212; an understood and valued right 8212; to care for our fellow Americans, especially those who are hurting. The Greens’ daughter was tragically taken from them in a public display of fury. They deserved the funeral as a simple moment of closure and privacy. No matter their religious, political or sexual preference, people don’t deserve to have their final remembrance littered with words of anger and disdain.
All are entitled to believe whatever they choose and to express those beliefs, but doing so at the right time and place in a civilized manner is essential. This law allows for that; Westboro can protest with as much gusto as ever and even on nationally syndicated radio programs, and the Greens and other Tucson families can mourn peacefully.
Some may think that freedom of speech trumps everything, but if exceptions are present anywhere, there is most definitely one allowed here. To make a publicity stunt out of the funeral of anyone is disrespectful. To do it at the funeral of a child is heartless.
It all comes down to priorities. The honor of a deceased human and the consideration of grieving loved ones must be held above someone else’s personal agenda. This protective law may be legally questionable, but in this case, the intent behind the law is definitely right.
Rachel Causey is a freshman English major from Monroe, La.