Pity them, don't outlaw them

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The Kentucky Senate and House this week are rushing to pass a bill and get Gov. Ernie Fletchers name on it to become effective immediately that has serious constitutional problems, and we expect most lawmakers know it.

The bill is aimed at limiting demonstrations by members of a Topeka, Kan., church at military funerals of soldiers killed in Iraq. In particular, legislators want to prevent members of Westboro Baptist Church from disrupting a memorial service planned this week at Fort Campbell.

Church members have become all-too prominent in Kentucky and elsewhere, claiming that soldiers deaths are Gods retribution against the United States for tolerating gays. They carry signs that say, Thank God for IEDs (improvised explosive devices). They even protested at the funerals of coal miners killed last month in West Virginia.

And they have demonstrated at the funerals of Kentucky National Guardsmen killed in combat.

These people are more appropriately pitied than made the focus of General Assembly action. Their particular brand of hatred is anathema to all sane and reasonable Kentuckians.

But the bill steaming ahead toward Fletchers desk goes too far. Its one thing to require demonstrators to stay 300 feet away from military funerals the courts, for example, have upheld laws requiring demonstrators to stay a specific distance from abortion clinics but it is another thing to limit what those demonstrators can say.

The bill passed Friday by the Senate bans demonstrators from making unreasonable noise, or any utterance, gesture or display designed to outrage.

What constitutes unreasonable noise and outrage? The courts certainly will have to decide, and we expect the courts will determine the law is an unconstitutional infringement on free speech, even speech that Kentuckians find objectionable and outrageous.

And as difficult as it surely is for the friends and families of fallen soldiers wishing only to mourn them in peace and solitude, they must remember these soldiers died to extend to Iraqis the freedom of speech Iraqis have never enjoyed, a freedom even to be outrageous and disgusting in the way it is exercised.

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