12 October 2010

randomly turning the pages

"Make it illegal to protest at military funerals!" - This popped up as a matter of course on facebook.

I'm sympathetic to the idea that people who use military funerals to protest the way Fred Phelps does are assholes, certainly. But I'm not sympathetic to shuttering their ability to spew hatred in a public forum. They will simply find some other more offensive method of spewing their point of view. Or more violent, failing that. Besides which, protesting at military events does not need to be limited to a programme undertaken by bigots who hate homosexuals and perceive DADT as somehow "pro-gay". It is an easy enough forum for use for protesting wars, to point out other foreign policy positions that are disagreeable (torture or rendition for example), or military policies and rules of conduct, etc. What if, rather than protesting against DADT as a "pro-gay" policy, there were discharged homosexuals protesting the same policy which now prevents their desire to perform a national service? What then? What if it were anti-war folks or pacifists? Or Islamophobes? I don't see how this is a free speech exclusion zone necessarily simply because we have found a particular strain of speech which has strained our tolerance beyond measure.

I'm not completely unsympathetic to the idea that this may be perceived as a private event, especially for the families or friends of a fallen comrade in arms. So I wouldn't shed many tears for free speech if we carved out an exclusion zone of some sort, but people should be aware all this will do is move the protests somewhere else that will still be modestly offensive and annoying. We do not get protections against being modestly annoyed and offended, to our credit, and there are not laws against the commission of "being an asshole", again to our credit. I would caution against demanding such a precedent for this, and if it were to be carved out, it should be explicitly and carefully done.
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