Albert Snyder and Protests at Military Funerals

So once again, I left the ivory tower and found myself playing catch up on a story other people might be following more closely.

Indulge me in a little background. This guy Albert Snyder sued a church group that protested at his son’s military funeral. They held up signs saying things like “God hates fags.” First he won a huge judgment in court but the appeals court reversed and now he owes money to the church group. Understandably many people are PISSED and in fact Bill O’Reilly has agreed to foot the bill for the court costs and other people donating to Albert so that he can continue his court battle.

I count myself as one of the people that is very upset about this conduct, and  the support for this father is heartening. Still, I just want to make a point about the over-judicialization of U.S. politics. I think there is a tendency to assume that if someone does something wrong, the courts will set it right. Unfortunately, I think the appeals court’s ruling is right on. I’m not sure about the details, so I can’t speak to the way that the court costs were assessed against Mr. Snyder, but I can say that the actions of these demented protesters seems to fall squarely within free speech protections. Now why do we have free speech protections that would shield such abusive and disrespectful actions? I think the answer is democracy. A democracy requires that all parties be entitled to leverage non-violent techniques of persuasion to full effect. Now of course, no one is rushing to join this church after such childish behavior, but the point is that laws about free speech are MEANT to be unresponsive to general codes of decency in order to shield minority groups from falling victim to legal  sanctioned censorship.

So what should we do about such people? Well, we have to rediscover democratic and non-judicial action. This type of political engagement has been on the decline in the U.S. for a while, but I think it’s time to try and bring it back. What can be done to combat such people? To be honest, I can’t really think of any blockbuster strategies against this group. Although people could protest their church activities (and maybe refuse to leave church property), and others could refuse to interact with the church at all. Insofar as this church can finance itself purely by its own insane members, it can escape boycotts and crude social sanctions. Still, members  of this church could be shamed in variety of local institutions or their workplaces; they could be fired by conscientious employers for one thing.

This sort of stuff may seem utopian, and I admit, the direct options against such a small and isolated part of society are few, but this article I cited above suggests on possibility I had never heard about but found very interesting: there are apparently groups that go to military funerals and repel protesters. The article gives the name of the Patriot Guard Riders (I confess, this sounds like a hate group). I’m not sure how they do this without getting in trouble, but I imagine that if enough people came to the funeral ahead of the protesters, then they could effectively crowd the protesters out of effectiveness. Maybe there are other ideas.

*A little more research on this issue shows three things.

a) These people are REALLY crazy. They are a hate group plain and simple and they hate a lot of things. Including Jews and Irish people (yea, no joke. They claim there are a lot of gay people in Ireland or something).

b) One democratic response that some states and localities have taken is to pass laws preventing such demonstrations. These laws are at such a local level that they don’t get challenged for their legality. My guess is that many of them are illegal or they have finessed the language of the law. Still, this might be an option.

c) Some gay people protest this group by going to their rallies and making out. I think this is an awesome response.


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