Keeping funeral protestors at arm’s length

Published 8:48 pm Thursday, June 7, 2012

In a business that relies heavily on, and is protected strongly by, the First Amendment, it is not our nature to advocate restrictions on anyone’s right to free speech. But, the move by the Alabama Legislature and Gov. Robert Bentley to increase the distance protestors must be from funerals must be applauded.

Many of us have attended funerals of those in the military and seen protestors — particularly those from Westboro Baptist Church — celebrating the loss of life among those in our Armed Forces. And, it has taken every bit of restraint not to react to their venom.

According to the guidelines set forth in House Bill 238, groups protesting must stay at least 1,000 feet — or two blocks — from any funeral in Alabama. And, in an amazing sign of unity, the bill passed with unanimous approval in both the Alabama House and Alabama Senate; in itself a miracle from a group who couldn’t agree the sky was blue.

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In a release from Alabama Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard’s office, those with Westboro Baptist Church had protested military funerals in the state, as well as those for the children killed in a school bus crash in Huntsville and the funeral for Auburn student Lauren Burk, who was murdered. The group also publicly celebrated the horrific loss of life from the April 27, 2011 tornado outbreak in Alabama.

“It’s a shame a law like this is even necessary,” Hubbard said. “Everyone has the right to free speech in this country, but families also have the right to grieve without such hateful disruptions.”

We are the staunchest defenders of free speech and the right for anyone to express themselves in any manner they see fit. But, what this group of protestors — this so-called church — has become is a circus that has does little to spread the word of God or constructively express their opinions. They have become a group with their sights set on self gratification and simply hurting others.

It is sad a law like this must be established, but we are glad the Alabama Legislature saw fit to write one.