There are all indications that if Westboro Baptist Church goes through with its plans to picket the funerals of the victims of the Sandy Hook shooting, they're going to be greeted by a pretty large welcoming committee. Over 10,000 people have joined a Facebook group organizing an effort to surround the funerals with love and give the victims' families the space they need to mourn.
Well, there's a chance that they may also be greeted with arrest warrants as well. One of the members provided a link to a 2007 Connecticut law that makes "disruption of a funeral" illegal. Specifically, anyone who creates a disturbance within 300 feet of the funeral's location and does between an hour before and an hour after the funeral can face up to a year in jail and a $2,500 fine.
Most of you know that I'm pretty close to an absolutist on free speech. Most of you know that I even went as far as to oppose Dearborn, Michigan's effort to make the loathsome Terry Jones pay a "peace bond" before picketing at a mosque. Until very recently, I opposed laws creating restrictions on protesting at funerals. But that changed after the Phelps clan announced it was going to protest the funerals of the victims of the Tucson shooting--including the funeral of a nine-year-old girl. Granted, it was only averted when a Tucson-area Christian talk show host gave them airtime in exchange for putting the signs away. Still, it made me wonder--in what world can a society not be permitted to step in to protect the right of a family to bury a loved one in peace?
I find it hard to believe that Snyder v. Phelps would make this law unenforceable. From my research of that case, it looks like that case turned because Albert Snyder only learned about the protests after the fact. That fact not only prompted nearly every major media organization to file a friend of the court brief supporting Phelps, but persuaded the court's liberal justices to join in the 8-1 decision barring Snyder from suing the church. If Snyder does bar this law, then now is a good time to revisit that decision. I say again--there is no way in the world that we as a society can't step in to protect a family's right to bury a loved one in peace and with dignity.