"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."
That's the First Article of Amendment to the United States Constitution.
"Abridge" is the word of the day, folks. According to dictionary.com, it is a verb meaning to "shorten by omission while retaining the basic contents; reduce or lessen in duration, scope, or authority; or to deprive".
Now, let's look at the purpose of the First Amendment's protection of free speech. Is the purpose of being guaranteed the right to speak freely to protect our right to say what we want in private or around those who agree with us, or is it to protect our right to express our opinions in a public forum without fear of legal reprisal from those who don't agree with us?
It seems rather silly to suggest that we'd be given a legal guarantee for something that the majority of us agreed with. To the contrary, our right to freedom of speech was guaranteed in law to protect the right to say things the majority of other people would disagree with. To say things the majority of people find to be offensive. In short, it grants you the legal right to act like a jackass if you want.
There is no lawful recourse to dealing with someone who abuses this legal right, provided they have not infringed upon your rights, other than exercising your own right to tell them they are acting like a jackass.
So why does this matter to me? Last week, the city council of Brazoria, TX passed an ordinance prohibiting public protest within one thousand feet of a funeral. I have not yet had the chance to read the ordinance itself and am only going by what members of city government officials are quoted as saying in our local paper, but I'm assuming it is applicable to graveside and indoor services.
So how far is 1,000 feet? It is a distance far enough to effectively remove any public demonstration from the possibility of being seen or heard from any funeral service within the city of Brazoria. You see, a protest group is already generally prohibited from protesting actually on the grounds of private property they don't have the right to be on, including all cemeteries in Brazoria...meaning their protest would have to be on the side of a public street. Being forced to move their protest 2/10 of a mile farther down the street would put them out of view and earshot of anyone at the funeral.
Can you imagine what would happen if a Baptist church were told that it couldn't protest within 1,000 feet of an abortion clinic? What about a VFW post being told that it couldn't hold a parade within 1,000 feet of a mosque? A child being told that he couldn't say "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Easter" within 1,000 feet of a public school because he has Jewish classmates?
I find it unconscionable to protest the funeral of ANYONE, be they members of the US military, or anyone else. However, given that this ordinance was passed to supposedly protect the honor of our US military in the wake of Fred Phelps et al, it seems rather odd to suggest that we disregard the constitution to honor those who have sworn an oath to uphold it. It makes as much sense as banning the bible to honor God!
I have the utmost respect for those who voluntarily put themselves in harm's way, after swearing an oath to support and defend the constitution of these United States, regardless of whether I agree with their mission or the orders that they have been given in our "War on Terror". They don't make the orders, they just follow them. They did, however, swear that oath to our constitution knowing that they might be put into harm's way. I gladly volunteer to stand between their families and any group of people who may choose to protest their service. I will not, however, stand for a disregard of our constitutional rights.