Blonde Justice had a post yesterday, On Patriotism, in which she wrote about a group of protesters who protest at soldiers’ funerals. Their cause is irrelevant, and — following the Blonde’s example — I won’t dignify them by naming the group. But their story is an excellent illustration of the difference between “legal” and “right.”
These protesters’ acts are legal, but wrong. They have a First Amendment right to protest, and to be as disrespectful and rude as their pathetic upbringings allow. The government has no business telling people what they can say where or when. If the government can punish them for their speech, it’s one step closer to punishing me for mine. The irony is that soldiers like those being buried have died so the protesters can have this right.
The Blonde mentions an anti-protest group, the Patriot Guard Riders, who attend the funeral services as guests of the family and “shield the mourning family and their friends from interruptions created by any protester or group of protesters” (from their website).
“We accomplish [this],” say the Riders, “through strictly legal and non-violent means.” Good for them. I can imagine actions that they might take in the circumstances that would be illegal, but right.
So who’s right and who’s wrong? The Riders are right. The First Amendment doesn’t protect the protesters against interference by individuals. If the Riders were to cross the often-fuzzy line between legal and illegal, I would eagerly defend them and help them exercise their constitutional rights under the Sixth Amendment. (There is, of course, no irony in the fact that soldiers have died so that the Riders can have these rights.) The protesters are wrong. But the fact that their behavior is loathsome would not stop me from defending their legal right to engage in it.