by Max Brantley
Rep. Randy Stewart made his move in committee today to make a little political hay by extending from 150 feet to 300 feet the statutory prohibition on demonstrations during funerals. His bill would also bar free speech 30 minutes before or after a funeral. This is part of the nationwide overreaction to a handful of religious extremists from Kansas who've used funerals, often of service people, to advance their strange political agenda.
What part of the First Amendment doesn't gun nut Randy Stewart not understand? Rep. John Edwards, a lawyer, also joined in the process to make the bill less objectionable, but questions linger. He said the restrictions in the proposal would pass muster under some federal appellate rulings, but noted the U.S. Supreme Court hasn't definitively ruled on a variety of anti-funeral-protest laws.
The bill specifically allows free speech demonstrations of which a family approves, but not those that they don't approve. Unabridged free speech that is not. The patriotic volunteer motorcycle riders who've worked hard and effectively to limit the emotional impact of the Kansas demonstrators at funerals is an appropriate exercise of assembly and speech rights to counter the crackpots with none of the problematic government involvement.
Rep. John Walker, a voice of reason on the Judiciary Committee, said he didn't like funeral protests, but he said the standard of regulating protests should not be whether or not somebody didn't like them. A 300-foot restriction, Walker said, effectively limits a person's right to advance his or her cause. "Why do we always have to do things that are unnecessary and sometimes make mountains out of mole hills?" Walker asked.
Edwards said he'd struggled with Walker's questions, but concluded funerals were a unique issue.
The bill received a favorable recommendation and no audible "no" votes were heard.