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Thank God for dead soldiers. Those are the words written on protesters’ signs outside of many military funerals. “Thank God for dead soldiers” when mourning the loss of a son, daughter, mother, father, brother or sister.
In Topeka, Kan. members of Westboro Baptist Church frequent funerals to bring awareness of what they believe is God’s punishment of Americans for allowing homosexuals. God is punishing America by letting soldiers die for its sin, they say.
Using poster boards and markers, these people are robbing families of their last moments celebrating the life of a loved one. How can they be allowed to do that?
The U.S. Supreme Court is asking the same question and seems to be stuck between a rock and a hard place.
This is not an issue of freedom of religion; Westboro Baptist Church members have the right to believe in whatever doctrines they want, even if they are misinformed and detrimental to the image of Christianity.
The issue is freedom of speech, found in the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.
When protesting, the people stand in public areas, but their words travel into the funeral services through the hearts and minds of those grieving. They follow the procession to graveyards, but their hurtful words are often not buried with the fallen one.
Some families of soldiers who have died believe there should be restrictions on when and where these people can protest. They don’t want their last memories of the person they lost to be tainted with images of people thankful that their son or daughter died to prove God’s hatred of homosexuals.
The Supreme Court heard the case on this issue Oct. 6. Their verdict could be a landmark in American freedoms. If they do nothing, they disrespect the families who have been hurt by the protests and who lost someone in protection of the freedoms the court upholds.
If they set limitations on free speech, though, they draw a line that is not supposed to exist. Once drawn, the line is difficult to erase.
Should there be different laws for military families and funeral processions? A case relating to this issue arose in 2009 concerning the media’s use of flag-draped coffins. Was it right to show pictures of a coffin on the evening news? There is, after all, a person underneath that red, white and blue.
After review, the United States Defense Department lifted the ban on media using the photographs. Now, it is up to families to decide whether they want press there or not.
Unfortunately, the other issue is not as simple to resolve. No one asks protesters to come. They just show up. And some are always in opposition to whatever event they are present at – which is why they are called protesters.
The Supreme Court must decide how far it is willing to go to protect the families of the ones who protect the rights of all Americans.
Maybe the government should allow the protests to happen from farther away, where they are not as intrusive. The families would be more protected and the freedom of speech still would be upheld.