Pickets' Charge: The Funeral Cases Steam Up
Do people who angrily picket the funerals of U.S. soldiers have a constitutional right to do so? That question now is swirling through the nation's court system, and a grim Supreme Court showdown seems likely within the next few years.
Last month, the family of Matthew Snyder, a lance corporal who died in Iraq, won an $11 million judgment from the protesters after a jury decided that the anti-gay picketing (protesters say God is punishing America for tolerating homosexuality) violated the family's privacy rights. But yesterday, a federal judge said Missouri could not enforce two state laws designed to stop the picketing. Approximately 40 states now have such laws on the books. But none of that compares with with is happening in Kansas.
It's hardly unusual, as regular readers know, for timid politicians to craft ambiguous legislation that judges then have to decipher. But sleazy legislators in Kansas have gone one step further: They've passed a controversial measure designed to limit -- but not really, at least not yet -- political and religious crusaders from picketing funerals.
These elected officials passed a law that outlaws the protests but declares itself unenforceable unless and until the Kansas Supreme Court declares it unconstitutional. (Here's the AP story from the Wichita Eagle.) Think about that: These politicians were so cravenly beholden to special interests -- apparently on both sides -- that they managed to pass a law intended to be useless. Yesterday, the Kansas Supreme Court held oral argument to determine whether the "unenforceability clause" in the statute is itself unconstitutional.
In other words, before there is order, if there ever will be order, there will be legal chaos. Will the picketers have the financial ability to fight all these battles themselves? Will First Amendment activists take up the torch and fight for these angry people? And what about the families of the service men and women who, in the great moment of pain, have to endure the shouting and the histrionics? Who is going to side with them?
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