The Associated Press reports that legislation banning protests within 3oo feet of a funeral or burial service has been rushed through the Arizona legislature with unanimous support. It was signed into law shortly thereafter. The legislation was written in response to the Westboro Baptist Church’s decision to picket the funeral of Christina Taylor Green, the 9-year-old girl killed in Saturday’s shooting. (A screen capture of the picket schedule is available here). Given Westboro’s reputation and their vile intent to bring more suffering to this grieving family, it pains me that I must oppose this law. Although I’m sure the state delegates acted in good faith and with honorable intentions, their actions are misguided and reactionary.
I am fortunate enough to live in an area of the country where oncoming traffic still stops for a funeral procession. Fred Phelps has no such respect for the mourning. Instead, he tramples on the graves of our most honorable citizens and most tragic losses to spread a message of hate. That’s not just me speaking, his own daughter and Westboro spokesperson told News/Talk 1110 WBT, “you can’t read the bible without reading about God’s hate.” There’s a whole page on their website (screen capture here) dedicated to the subject. Their ability to disgrace the Baptist label demonstrates one of the flaws of a completely decentralized denomination.
Westboro’s vitriol has no place at Christina Green’s funeral. It has no place at Justice John Roll’s funeral. It has no place in Tucson, Arizona, or anywhere else in this nation. Still, even with the lofty goal of protecting families from Westboro’s hate speech, Arizona should be wary of the precedent they’ve set if this law survives the inevitable court battle. If we can ban protests at a funeral, why not at an award ceremony? Why not at a memorial service or during Congressional debate on controversial issues? If we can ban protests within 300 feet of a specific place, then why not 1,000 feet, or 10,000 feet? If we can ban protests for 1 hour after an event, why not 2 hours, or 24? Once the line has been drawn, it becomes much easier to move. On the precarious ridge of Constitutional rights, I would rather not lose my footing.
While I cannot support this law, I do support the efforts of the Tucson Memorial Project, and similar counter-protesters (the Patriot Guard Riders pictured above were founded in 2005 to shield military families from WBC). They have solicited volunteers to block any Westboro protesters from view with “wings of love,” 8′ by 10′ wings worn by designated “Tucson Angels.” Their website is: www.tucsonmemorial.org.