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Finding peace for a dead soldier

Posted: October 7, 2010 9:09 a.m.
Updated: October 8, 2010 5:00 a.m.

We’ve gone back and forth in our views on the case heard Wednesday by the U.S. Supreme Court involving a Kansas church which has protested at the funerals of dead American soldiers with such distasteful signs as “Thank God For Dead Soldiers.” The issue is whether or not First Amendment free speech rights carry over to disrupting private funerals. Church members say that because the deceased soldier’s father was interviewed by a local newspaper that he became a public figure and was thus targetable by a protest. The father’s supporters contend that a protest that intentionally inflicts distress upon a grieving family is not covered by the First Amendment.

There’s no question where the sentiments of most Americans lie: with the family, and not with the thoroughly unlikeable church members who piously ask God to help kill other soldiers as a punishment for what the misguided, deluded church believes are the sins of this country. We are, of course, vigorous defenders of the First Amendment, and we are hesitant to start making exceptions to the right of free speech. But even the most staunch defenders of free speech agree that this is not an open-and-shut case, and that such demonstrations can’t automatically be considered protected when they target an innocent family conducting a funeral.

Justices from the court’s liberal and conservative wings asked questions during oral arguments Wednesday suggesting they believe there is indeed a debate about this issue and that it’s not an automatic win for those who argue the protests are covered by the First Amendment. They asked some probing questions about violating personal rights, and more and more, we find ourselves agreeing with their bent. We’d bet most Americans do, too.

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