Our constitutional rights are not absolute: it is perfectly acceptable to restrict our freedom of speech

This is the sign that greets you at the entrance to Arlington National Cemetery. Notice the words “sacred shrine” and “hallowed grounds”.  Notice the instruction to conduct ourselves with dignity and respect at all times. Remember that this sign is on Federal property, in a Federal district and is the stated position of the United States government.  When I first saw this sign (not that I was considering breaking these rules)  I assumed that anyone doing so would at least be escorted off the grounds, if not prosecuted by the law.

But don’t I have the right to speak freely, to assemble freely, to politically protest against things that I feel strongly about?  Don’t I have this right, guaranteed by the First Amendment, especially when on public property that is, at least partly, maintained by my taxes?

Actually, no, I don’t.  And neither do the morons from Westboro Baptist church.  If you are following the current Supreme Court case on TV or the web then you might notice that outside the courthouse they are prominently displaying their obscene signs while standing on the Marine Corps flag and spewing vile soundbites to the press.  But…those signs, those remarks, are in no way allowed inside that court house.  Their speech, our speech, is effectively restricted by the government  (which is us, by the way) and no one questions this.

So, why would they, or anyone else, have the right to disrupt the burial service of a fallen Marine (or soldier or sailor) on legally recognized hallowed ground?  They answer is, they don’t.  It is not only wrong, it is illegal.


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  1. #1 by Bill Samuel on October 7, 2010 - 9:53 am

    The sign is a blatant violation of the establishment clause of the First Amendment. The Government has no right to declare what is sacred. I’m surprised there hasn’t been a case on this, since it would be an open-and-shut case.

    It is not legally recognized hallowed ground. It is illegally recognized hallowed ground.

    Freedom of religion is incompatible with some supposed governmental right to declare what is sacred and what is not. That is not the government’s business in a free country.

  2. #2 by Christian Beyer on October 7, 2010 - 10:17 am

    So you think they should allow the protesters, any protesters inside the courtroom?

    I don’t think the words “hallowed” or “sacred” or the sole property of religion, btw. After all, don’t you hold, in some way, constitutional rights to be sacred?

  3. #3 by Christian Beyer on October 7, 2010 - 10:28 am

    And…what about the instructions to act with dignity and respect, or in other words, to act CIVILLY, which would imply our obligation to respect the rights of others that they not be harassed by those of us with a political (or in this case, deranged) axe to grind?n It’s not just Fred Phelps who is at fault here but also those anti-war protesters who used the same tactics.

  4. #4 by Bill Samuel on October 7, 2010 - 11:07 am

    I’m sorry. I do believe our Constitutional rights are important. I am reminded of Pastor Niemoller’s famous statement, “They came first for the Communists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for me and by that time no one was left to speak up.”

    Respect for rights is shown not when they are exercised by those we agree with, but by those we most profoundly disagree with. If Fred Phelps doesn’t have rights, neither do you or me.

    It may be legitimate to set some rules for conduct within a cemetery. I don’t think this is germane to the Phelps case as I understand he does not protest inside cemeteries but on public property outside them. The message on the Arlington Cemetery sign was worded as a request, and would certainly be too vague to be enforceable in any case.

    An approach which has been taken, which seems to me appropriate, is for others to surround the Phelps crew to exercise their Constitutional rights to a different point of view than him.

    • #5 by Christian Beyer on October 7, 2010 - 12:49 pm

      I’ll have to check into how close the protesters get to the mourners, Bill. If they are outside of the cemetery, well then, that may be a different issue. But I don’t think that has been the case, at least not every time. And again, I don’t think the foulness of Phelp’s message is what is germane here – no one should be allowed to disrupt a burial or funeral service, no matter what the reason, Left, Right, patriotic or idiotic.

      It’s ironic that you quote Niemoller: Glenn Beck has habit of (mis)quoting his statement (he calls it a poem) when warning his disciples of the coming totalitarian state.

    • #6 by Christian Beyer on October 7, 2010 - 1:56 pm

      Bill, you are right. In Snyder’s case the protesters were down the street a bit and not on church property. On Monday, during Dooley’s burial at Arlington they were adjacent to the driveway entering the cemetery.

      This had not always been the case, until Bush signed a law banning protesters from assembling at the burial sites of service men and women.

      So…I’m no longer sure where this should go. The Court has a tough one on their hands.

  5. #7 by Christian Beyer on October 7, 2010 - 1:58 pm

    And…my original intent with this post is apparently moot.

  6. #8 by logiopsychopath on October 8, 2010 - 7:00 pm


    Speech has been protected as long it is not disruptive (Tinker v Des Moines).

    If the Westboro people are not disruptive, then I don’t know what is (and pardon me ending a sentence with a form of To Be).

  7. #9 by darla on October 21, 2010 - 5:35 pm

    Westboro Baptist church needs to fined, punished imprisoned whatever..but its not about the freedom of speech…its just hate…

    Don’t the people who are being protested against at funeral have rights too. Westboro Baptist Church totally pisses me off! No one should be a victim when their child serves the country, and dies for that service…and the US should be protecting those families..just my two cents

    Oh..Hey how you doin?

    • #10 by Christian Beyer on October 24, 2010 - 7:32 pm

      Doing great. And agreed, agreed, agreed. My son being in the Marines and all has given me an additonial perspective, but I despised these scumbags long before he joined.

      How are you doing? Many of the old folk still on the web?

  8. #11 by Rich Hanner on January 19, 2011 - 8:35 pm

    You DO have the rights to freedom of expression, freedom of speech, and all that. What you DON’T have the right to do is to inflict it on those who wish to exercise their rights to privacy and freedom of worship.

    Are you people who are responding to this with freedom of speech arguments seriously saying that it’s OK to disrupt a family’s laying to rest of a loved one simply because it’s not illegal?? really??

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