AZ Shootings Spark 1st Amendment Debate

State Legislators in Arizona moved quickly to approve emergency legislation to head off picketing by a church near the funeral service for the 9-year-old girl who was killed in Saturday’s attack.

According to the Associated Press,

Unanimous votes by the Arizona House and Senate sent the bill to Gov. Jan Brewer, who signed it Tuesday night. It took effect immediately. Without specifically mentioning the Tucson shooting, the law prohibits protests at or near funeral sites.

The Westboro Baptist Church has made strides in its attempts to gain recognition for its cause, primarily by picketing military funerals to draw attention to its view that the deaths are God’s punishment for the nation’s tolerance of homosexuality. It plans to picket Thursday’s funeral for Christina Taylor Green because “God sent the shooter to deal with idolatrous America.”

I’ve mentioned this group in the past and one of my students wrote extensively on the subject. (Student Blawg – What Price Freedom of Speech).

I understand the issues here, but I don’t think that chipping away at one’s fundamental liberties is the proper response.  I don’t think it sends the right message to people.  Just because you don’t like, or want to hear, the message of the speaker at a certain location, doesn’t mean you pass a law to prohibit it. Make a special note here, the WBC was not singled out in the law.  So, the law applies to any person protesting under these circumstances. I’m still looking for a copy of the law itself, and will bring you more when I find it.

Generally, The Arizona legislation is modeled on an Ohio law that was upheld by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The four-paragraph Arizona bill makes it a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail to picket or conduct other protest activities within 300 feet of a funeral or burial service — about the length of a football field. The prohibition applies from one hour before the event to one hour after.

This will all boil down to whether this is a reasonable time, place and manner restriction on the location of the speech, since it doesn’t ban the speech in its entirety and is essentially content neutral. Our courts will decide…

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