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March 17, 2006
Is Becky Lourey The Last Minnesota Voice For Free Speech?

The Minnesota state legislature took up the offensive spectacle of the funeral protests staged by Fred Phelps, the self-described minister whose flock regularly cheers the death of American soldiers at their funerals. Often singing "God Hates America," they claim that the deaths of American soldiers came as a judgment from God for allowing gays to live openly among us, among their barely-coherent rants.

These protests embarrass and outrage every community where they occur, as the should. Those who give their lives in defense of our country deserve a respectful farewell, and their families deserve peace and space to mourn. These ghouls use their right to free speech to act like mindless hyenas.

However, they do have the same right to free speech, a small technicality that both houses of the state legislature appears to have forgotten in their eagerness to provide a legal solution to a poverty of the soul. The House already passed a ban on funeral protests and today the Senate followed suit, 58-1, on a similar bill. The lone vote against the ban came from a surprising source:

With a lone dissenting vote from Sen. Becky Lourey, the Senate approved restrictions Thursday on funeral protests such as one that marred the burial of a fallen soldier last month in Anoka.

The vote of 58 to 1 came a week after the House unanimously passed similar, but not identical, legislation. A conference committee will probably have to work out differences between the two bills.

Lourey, DFL-Kerrick, a candidate for governor and the mother of a soldier killed in Iraq last year, said she opposes the bill as an infringement of the free-speech right her son died to protect. No protesters showed up for the burial of Army helicopter pilot Matthew Lourey last June at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, but the senator said even that would not have changed her mind.

"If it had happened, I would have had to endure that," she said. "This is very emotional because the speech we're addressing is very ugly, but we can't repeal the Bill of Rights because of it."

Lourey, a DFL member who had planned on demonstrating with Cindy Sheehan before the media star left her campout in Crawford, is the only member of the Senate to understand what this ban means. Her son died in Iraq as part of an effort to bring democracy and liberty to an oppressed people, an effort Lourey opposed then and now. But she is correct in pointing out the bitter irony that Minnesota will impose speech restrictions in a heartfelt but misguided effort to honor the sacrifice of those who fought for freedom.

The law carries a ninety-day jail sentence for anyone who intentionally disrupts a memorial service or funeral. It also bars protestors from any demonstrations at the houses of the families. All of these sound reasonable, but it represents a government restriction on speech and organizing that finds no parallel elsewhere in law. The Supreme Court just ruled similar restrictions on abortion clinic protests unconstitutional. As John Hinderaker noted earlier at Power Line, the urge to solve every dispute through legislation only creates a community less free to express itself and more bound by government restrictions. That hardly seems like an appropriate manner in which to honor our fallen heroes.

Hopefully our legislature will heed the words of a Gold Star mother and rethink their reaction to the disgusting provocations of Fred Phelps. In the end, Phelps is a bug, and we shouldn't make him important enough to merit the loss of our speech rights.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at March 17, 2006 10:27 PM

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» Despicable but....... from The Florida Masochist
The ACLU is just coming to support anyone's first ammendment rights Who is to say what speech and assembly is right. Phelps is not creating a danger in what he does. Its not a matter of yelling fire in a crowded building. So he has a right to do w... [Read More]

Tracked on July 24, 2006 8:58 PM


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