The World According to Nick
My take on Software, Technology, Politics, and anything else I feel like talking about.
Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Do You Have a Right Not to Listen? 

Dean Mundy has a very interesting editorial in the Journal Sentinel:

The Legislature, mainly in response to actions by a religious group, passed a bill limiting the distance that protesters can come near a funeral. The governor signed it into law last month. Wisconsin is not alone, as some 14 states are considering similar measures.

You've heard of this group, no doubt. It's renowned for protesting at the funerals of servicemen, holding up derogatory signs and proclaiming that the war in Iraq is God's judgment on America for its tolerance of homosexuals.

As a Christian, I find the group's strategy so repugnant that I will not dignify it by giving its name. My sympathies are, for the most part, on the side of these honorable soldiers and their fine families.

I say for the most part because however repugnant these demonstrations might be to me, and no matter how much I sympathize with the mourners at these funerals, I am not in favor of this law.

I suggest you go over and read the whole thing. Like all of Dean's editorials, it's very well thought out. Of course that doesn't keep his argument from being wrong.

Like Elliot, I'm a big fan of free speech. I consider myself a libertarian (small-l). But with that said, I waffle back and forth on issues over our basic constitutional rights, especially when they involve our interactions with the population at large. I think this law is a great example of that larger issue.

People who are true 1st Amendment zealots will claim that you have absolute right to say whatever you want, whenever you want, where ever you want. There is no limitation on our right to free speech, ever, at all. But this leads to the question... Do we have a basic right not to have to listen to your speech?

If you want to write an editorial, give a speech somewhere, or start a blog, then I say go for it. I don't care what you say, or how you say it. If I find it interesting, I'll listen. If I think you're a repugnant excuse for a human being, I'll stop listening.

But protesting a funeral is very different, because the funeral mourners are a captive audience. They have no ability to refuse to listen to your protest. What's worse, is that they're not engaging in any sort of speech themselves which the protesters have a right to counter. They're burying the dead, and mourning a tragic loss. They have a right to do this, and they have a right to do that without you blasting your message at them.

Let's take this one step further. Would you find it acceptable if you were walking down the street and someone followed you everywhere you went and yelled protest messages in your ear? No matter where you go, and no matter how fast you run, he keeps coming after you. He doesn't touch you. He doesn't stop you from going anywhere. But he's behind you with his bullhorn shouting at you. Is he within his rights? Do you have to listen to him?


I believe that the 1st Amendment does include the right not to listen to speech you choose not to.

That said, I still fear that courts will strike down these laws aimed at curbing protests at funerals as unconstitutional.

But I hope I can come back after the court challenges and say I was wrong.

  Posted at March 21, 2006 1:00 PM by Blogger Peter  
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Name: Nick
Home: Wauwatosa, WI, United States

I'm a Software Consultant in the Milwaukee area. Among various geeky pursuits, I'm also an amateur triathlete, and enjoy rock climbing. I also like to think I'm a political pundit.

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