Protests at funerals? A bit overdone

The First Amendment permits expression, even when it allows for tasteless and at times hurtful words, to be conveyed in a public forum. But when is it OK for the United States government to censor?

The Westboro Baptist Church disputes that they deserve the right to express themselves freely. But shouldn’t those with a sexual preference (or any preference) different from the norm be allowed to do the same thing?

There is a national debate over permitting protests at the funerals of fallen American soldiers. Several religious sects in America, who oppose homosexuality outright, are protesting at such funerals, as they associate homosexuality to the deaths of Iraqi soldiers in our war against terrorism.

The correlation between homosexuality and Iraqi casualties is a stretch to say the least. Individuals, no matter what their viewpoint, should be given equal opportunity to express their opinion.

The main perpetrators of these events are members of the Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church, and their leader, Rev. Fred Phelps. This group of anti-gay advocates has been in the headlines since the murder of Matthew Shepard, an openly gay teen who was tortured and murdered by two other citizens in Laramie, Wyoming. Phelps and his church followers protested Shepard’s funeral and memorial services, claiming the teen was “burning in hell” for having a sexual preference different from the “social norm.” The message sent by groups like these strongly affirm that American soldiers fight for our country’s civil rights, yet they are punished by God because of our stances on gay rights.

In addition to Rev. Phelps, his daughter Shirley Phelps-Roper, attorney for the church, claims that their (church’s) goal is to “call America an abomination.” According to abc.com, she goes further by stating, “You turn this nation over to the fags and our soldiers come home in body bags.”

Currently, legislation against such protests is being considered in several Midwest states, including Illinois, Indiana, Oklahoma and Missouri.

Such legislation sounds like a virtuous push to keep private matters as what they should be: private affairs for individuals to grieve peacefully. On the other hand, anti-gay advocates, like the Westboro Baptist Church, may be having their rights infringed because of vague language in the Constitution.

Based on precedent, and despite the agony and emotional distress demonstrators cause victims’ families, Americans cannot restrict people from their expression, especially in a public forum.