Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Group PDF: Assembly

In September of 2007, two people were arrested while attending their friends' funeral because of homemade signs taped to the window of their van protesting the president and government policies. Michigan is one of many states to create funeral protest laws in response to psychologically harmful and disruptive protests by the Westboro Baptist Church. In Michigan, the law states it is a felony to "disturb, disrupt or adversely affect" a funeral within 500 feet. In response to these arrests, the American Civil Liberties Union argued that the law itself is "unconstitutionally vague" and that the arrests violated free speech. Both the deceased and the two arrested friends were army veterans. 

In this specific case, one must look at the intent of the message. The arrested were not at the funeral to protest, rather to grieve. Furthermore, cases involving assembly in public places should be judged--according to previous Supreme Court decisions--upon time, place and manner. This arrest seems not to have taken into account manner. Also, the existing Michigan law against funeral protests is indeed vague--there is too much room for interpretation on an individual level. 

Which leads to our two main questions:

1. Should the police have free will to enforce laws? How should the police arrests be monitored? Does this arrest--or anti protest laws--violate free speech?

2. How does one combat personal prejudice at local level law enforcement? 
{as the article states, authority has "unchecked power to arrest people who have unpopular views"} 

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