Free Speech vs Free Hate
Late Tuesday the Arizona legislature passed a law prohibiting demonstrations within 300 feet of a funeral. It passed this emergency law to stop a hateful bunch of Kansas church members from disrupting the funeral of Christina Green, the little girl killed in that assassination attack on the congresswoman on Saturday. By any measure, this group and its followers are a disgusting bunch who say they will travel to Tucson and protest near the funeral because the Green family is Catholic.
Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed the new law immediately and it's hard to imagine any group opposing it, but it does raise an issue of free speech and the ACLU might chime in. The head of the Republican Party in Pima County, the scene of the shooting, has already says he opposes the new law because it violates the First Amendment. However, he says he will work hard, if necessary, to shield the funeral from the protestors.
The issue of free speech in the United States has been debated and regulated for since the times of the Founding Fathers. Do these church members and their distasteful message have the right to assemble there on a public street and yell what they want to yell? Does the law protect them? If you look at the history of this free speech debate the answer is no.
The example is the one we have all heard about before. It is not ok to yell “fire” in a crowded theater. The law says that kind of speech jeopardizes the safety of others and disrupts their right to freely assemble in peace. The same basic ruling applies to these hateful church members and the analysis of the new Arizona law preventing them from getting too close to a family grieving the death of a child. The new law is not stifling their speech. They still have the right to say what they want, but they can't do it so it hurts others. I am surprised more states haven't done this. Why did it take Arizona and the death of a little girl to push lawmakers to act?
As a journalist, freedom of speech is a value I appreciate deeply. The members of this church have a message they feel is important and they can make that message known to anyone who chooses to wallow in their trough. However, Arizona is proving that sometimes total freedom is really not freedom at all and limiting some speech when it is hurtful to others or infringes on the rights of others is really the American way.