Free Speech Buffer Zones

I’m watching Sean Hannity do his usual job of bullying his guests with piss poor arguments.

But god help me, this time, though the way he’s arguing for it sucks, I think I’m sympathetic with his conclusion, or at least something like it.

I think it should not be allowed to take actions which would reasonably be construed as disruptive to, for example, funerals, marriages, and other ceremonies (other events than those we would usually call “ceremonies” should probably go under the category I’m talking about, as well, but I don’t have a full characterization of the category at this time). So, for example, if a protest of a person’s funeral can be heard by the ones attending it, then it should not be allowed.

My questions for debate are:

Do you agree or disagree with this? (Or with whatever sufficiently clarified version of this you’d like to discuss?)

What are the best ways to clarify the idea I’m getting at here? Probably most of you see the general gist, but formulating the rule precisely is pretty difficult. (What counts as “disruption?” What counts as a “ceremony?” Is “ceremony” the right word to use, or should some wider category be active here? And so on…)

How to navigate such difficulties?


Well I have come to the conclusion that freedom comes with *responsibility *if one is not responsible that freedom will be taken away.

We see and have seen this through out time. Smoking is a perfect example, you should have the freedom to smoke, but that comes with the responsibility not to interfere with others. At one time the smoker would ask the non-smokers ‘do you mind if I light up?’. For some reason that went away and a smoker just lit up any ol’ time he felt like it - the smoker was no longer being responsible, and the right to smoke has been restricted.

Just one of many examples.

In the case of protesting during a funeral - This is irresponsible use of the freedom and is a threat to the freedom of speech, as in if abused enough it WILL be restricted.

But do you think it should be restricted to disallow that kind of protest?


It’s a double edges sword type of issue. There is no reason to restrict it if people are being responsible, but since some are not there is very little choice in the matter. It a sad situation where we all lose right by the actions of a few. And those few are really unwilling participants to the loss of rights.

It is the very people who were given the right and the responsibility, who have taken that right away. When the responsibility is ignored, the right CAN NOT STAND.

So to answer your question that right in now history.

Nobody has the RIGHT to not be offended, despite that most people think they have it. Anyone, can say anything, about anyone, anytime, anywhere. Our constitutional rights weren’t given to us on the condition that we behaved well.

The issue is not whether or not people are offended, but rather, whether or not they have a right (prima facie at least) to be able to conduct certain kinds of activities–such as funerals, weddings, etc–without disruption.

In fact, in one sense, this right is already established. Someone who actually came in to the funeral and started yelling at people would rightly be taken away by the police.

Now I maintain the difference beteen shouting from inside the funeral grounds, and shouting from some audible distance away, is a difference of kind, not a difference of degree. Both are disruptive of the funeral. So I think if the first is prohibited, so should be the second.


Well, there’s your first mistake right there. :wink:

Generally speaking, I’d think disrupting any sort of private gathering would fall under “disturbing the peace,” so singling out funerals and weddings seems redundant.

But then, you can get into a fuzzy line on what constitutes “disruptive”, anyway. If you say I can’t shout nasty jokes at Fred Phelp’s funeral (a hypothetical example), then how about if I rent one of those airplane-ad-banners and fly overhead, towing a banner with an anti-Phelps message? Or if I park my car outside of the cemetary’s exit with a ginormous poster of Fred roasting in the fires of Hades? Who’s gonna draw the line on what’s disruptive or not?

The appropriateness of a protest–of any free speech, for that matter–is related to the intention of the protester. This can never be truly known, but can be fairly inferred from the protest activity.

If I decide to stand outside your house with a sign just calling you an asshole and tell anyone that passes by that you’re an asshole, a reasonable person might conclude that I just don’t like you. This kind of speech, I think, can be regulated (the cops can arrest me for disturbing the peace) because there’s no real public interest being served by my “protest”; I’m just a jerk who wants to make live miserable for somebody else I’ve labeled a jerk.

On the other hand, if my sign refers to a specific grievance–say you’re a plumber I hired who screwed me over on a costly home repair–and I share the information regarding that experience with passers-by, the protest clearly has the aim of informing the public (plus the nice side effect of annoying an asshole). This, I think, is why slander and libel charges need to prove that the speaker/writer could reasonably knew the things beings said/written were false. If that’s the case, the only aim of saying/publishing them is malice, which does not serve a public interest. I also think the standard should be high enough that there’s no mistaking when the speech is simply malicious and not at all in the public interest.

Things are never this black and white, of course, but I think the intent of the protesters and how it applies to the public interest should be taken into account when evaluating the appropriateness of free speech.

Another wrinkle: In this media age, many “private” ceremonies attract media that can provide a broader platform to protests. Generally I’d like it would not be permissable to protest at someone’s funeral (mourners are unlikely to be swayed or even interested in your protest, not to mention the overall bad taste of kicking a man when he’s dead), but if that funeral were covered by media, I’d be more apt to allow it.

Define responsible in this context.

Remember what your parents told you in kindergarten? “Ignore them. They’ll go away”. Thats all that needs to be done.

Doesn’t that kinda defeat the purpose of protesting? If you’re going that far, why not just ban protesting entirely?

It’s not really a right if if doesn’t protect unpleasant conduct, is it? Because conduct everybody thinks is fair doesn’t need any protection. So you can think that protesting funerals shouldn’t be protected, but if you do think this, then IMHO you’re saying free speech isn’t a worthwhile thing to have. And that is a proposition with which I must disagree.


A libertarian ways in:

People should be allowed to protest anything they want so long as they do it on their own property. No one has the right to act as they please on land/buildings/crap that doesn’t belong to them. So protesting in a funeral home? Depends on whether or not the owner is willing, and that is ultimately decided by the free market. In other words, probably not going to happen.

I have a HUGE problem with the sheer concept of public property (such as street corners were loud protersters could be heard) for reasons exactly like this one. Who, exactly, owns public streets were most protests transpire? Who decides what’s appropriate? And why should I care what someone else’s opinon of “appropriate” is? I’d have no problem protesting the funerals of say, Phelps, the current Pope, or GWB. Why should I care if someone is offended by my ideas?

It’s problems like limiting free thinking that makes public property a bad idea.

(Hopefully I didn’t hijack this thread. Sorry if I did. I happen to think the ideas are related.)

Mojobox this view of rights is the problem. If anything it should be written the people are given the** responsibility** not to offend - though this is not entirely correct either.

A better view is that the people are given the responsibility not to be disruptive to others when they excercise their right to speech. Much like the police have ‘special’ rights not given to the general population, and they have the responsibility which comes with those rights.

We as individuals are responsible for our use of our rights - if we don’t take that responsibility there is no choice then to regulate it.

spazattak my above post goes to your question as well.

I believe this is just bass-ackward. The whole idea of a right is that it guarantees you the ability to act in a socially unacceptable way. Again, ike I said above, if it only protects acceptable conduct, then it doesn’t exist at all – because that conduct doesn’t need societal protection. And the notion that if the right isnt used “responsibly” then it needs to be regulated – who decides what’s responsible? And why are they legitimized in that way?


Agree completely. If you have freedom for “acceptable” speach, then you have no freedom. People are going to be offended by free speach, that’s one of the points of protest. At the funeral of a US soldier or Ken Lay, if people wish to protest that is their right.

There are legitimate regulations that can be placed on actions, such as disrupting public streets, blocking sidewalks, noise loud enough to disturb the peace. But people have a right to state their case, regardless of how unpleasant that is. It’s the price we pay for living in a free society.

Again I think you are the one who has it backwards, and I believe history has proven me correct, and eventually if a right is abused it will be taken away and regulated (or outlawed). The right given to the people means that the people must excercise judgement using that right. The decision is left to the individual to determine where and when it’s appropiate.

You may not want to hear it that way, but it is really how it’s implemented. And when rights come without responsibility it will be lost.

In that case, they are not rights, they are privledges. Rights don’t get taken away without extraordinary need. It’s true you cannot yell “Fire” in a crowded theater, but there is a clear public safety issue there. While offensive, I don’t see that making people uncomforable at a funeral rises to the same level.

We may be slipping into the realm of restricting freedoms, but it doesn’t have to be that way. The whole idea of unalienable rights is that laws don’t restict them. You may argue (and many have) that natural rights are just “nonsense on stilts” but that is the basis of the Bill of Rights.

Agreed as well. Sorry, kanicbird. The right to speak “freely”, but only when what you’re saying is what people want to hear, is as useless as the right to vote for only the most popular candidate, or the right to own only guns that have been modified to prevent them from firing.