Arizona Passes Law to Prevent Funeral Demonstrations

This article is from the archive of our partner .

Arizona has passed emergency legislation to block protests of the funeral of a 9-year-old girl who was killed in the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. The state legislature moved swiftly after the infamous Westboro Baptist Church announced it would picket Christina Taylor Green's memorial service, saying God was punishing America for various sins. Westboro, led by Reverend Fred Phelps, frequently protests funerals, for example those killed in wars, and the memorial service for Elizabeth Edwards.

The law is based on a similar one in Ohio, which was found to be constitutional by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the Associated Press' Paul Davenport reports. Lawmakers had to tread carefully to avoid trampling on free speech rights, so the measure only forbids picketing within 300 feet of the funeral or burial for an hour before and after the service. (Laws banning protests during the procession have been struck down.) Violators can be charged with a misdemeanor and get six months in jail. Here's how people are reacting to this latest law:

  • An Infringement on the First Amendment, Brian Miller, chair of the Pima County, Arizona, Republican Party, told Talking Points Memo's Evan McMorris-Santoro . "I don't know what's in the law, but I do think it's indicative of always looking to the law to solve problems... We will not sign on or advocate any policy that limits free speech." But Miller will join a silent counter-protest at the funeral meant to block the Greene's family from having to see the Westboro protesters. "In a very peaceable way, we will neutralize them," Miller said.
  • The Courts Should Uphold This Law, Patterico predicts. "It's clearly targeted at stopping the Fred Phelps monsters from picketing the little girl's funeral. But thanks to a doctrine that allows reasonable 'time, place, and manner' restrictions, it's also almost certainly constitutional ... These Arizona legislators are pretty good at getting sensible legislation passed fast."
  • What Took So Long? Jonn Lilyea asks at This Ain't Hell. Military families have been "haunted" by Westboro for years. "Thankfully, our own (the Patriot Guard Rider and the American Legion Riders) have taken up the chore of shielding many families from the Westboro 'Baptist' Church’s irrational and incoherent vitriol. But now, suddenly, government has discovered a way to stop them at the funeral of a nine-year-old girl ... Where was all of this concern and this emergency legislation when the Westboro [protesters] were spending $200,000 a year to send their minions to military funerals?"
  • Pitying Fred Phelps  "I continue to believe it’s worth almost anybody’s time--seriously--to watch the film Hatemongers, which was produced and directed by Westboro Baptist Church by themselves, about themselves," blogger Dean Esmay writes at Dean's World. "It appears to me that Phelps’ theology is as airtight and self-contained as anything you could possibly want. In a weird way, I found myself liking old Fred. Mind you, I hope people do whatever it takes to squelch him and keep [Greene's] family safe from his predations, but after watching that film I couldn’t make myself hate him anymore. Feel sorry for him, but hate him? Nah."
  • Why Can't We Just Ignore Them? Paul Waldman wonders at The American Prospect. "They're a particularly hateful group of maniacs, and it's tempting to point out their actions so people understand that that sort of thing exists within our country. But they're a tiny group that has no supporters anywhere, at least none willing to stand up and join them. They have a First Amendment right to say whatever they want -- indeed, they're a walking instruction in the price we pay for having freedom of speech -- and they're also very good at attracting attention. So what if we all agreed we were just going to ignore them? The next time there's a tragedy of any sort, the WBC will be there, proclaiming that God brought it down upon our nation, so angry is he at our tolerance of sin. The rest of us don't have to respond. We can't put them in jail, but we can deprive them of the attention they crave."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.