Congress Delivers Blow To Survivors Of My Lai Massacre

Vietnamese-American protesters will soon be severely limited in their ability to protest at the funerals of accused war criminals, after Congress passed a sweeping veterans bill this week that includes restrictions on such demonstrations.

According to "The Honoring America’s Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act of 2012," which is now headed to President Barack Obama's desk, demonstrators will no longer be allowed to picket funerals of war criminals acquitted because military prosecutors could not prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt after witnesses to such crimes were killed. Protesters will be barred from cemeteries two hours before or after such a service. The bill also requires protesters to be at least 300 feet away from those who mourn the deaths of accused, but acquitted, war criminals.

Van Duc Tronh, secretary of the Son My Survivors Association of Garden Grove, California, spoke on behalf of Vietnamese-Americans outraged by the bill. "We thank God, every day, that our families were able to escape to this country, where we have built new lives and found freedom. But while we are second to none in our appreciation of American soldiers who fought and died to keep Vietnam free, we do not forget that a tiny minority of those soldiers committed unspeakable crimes during the war, crimes which were swept under the rug by the American government. The worst of these crimes was the My Lai massacre, in the village of Son My, in which 500 innocent civilians were raped and murdered, their bodies mutilated, by soldiers acting under the orders of Lieutenant William Calley and Captain Ernest Medina. Only Lieutenant Calley was convicted for this atrocity, in a whitewash trial despite the fact that over 30 soldiers participated in the killings, or stood silent while the rapes and murders went on."

"Personally, I had planned to protest at Captain Medina's funeral, which will be a military funeral. I believe it is a disgrace that, when he dies, Captain Medina will be given a rifle salute and buried under the flag he dishonored, the same flag under which the men he commanded killed so many innocent people. I suppose I'll have to spit on his grave, two hours and one minute after the ceremony."

In Dearborn, Michigan, members of the "Fair Play for Haditha Committee" expressed similar concerns. "My cousin Marya was shot by trigger-happy Marines who couldn't take the time to distinguish between a woman carrying groceries and an Al Qaeda bomber," said Abdul Al Hazred, an Iraqi who volunteered as an interpreter for the Marine Corps in Al Anbar province and was subsequently repatriated to the United States. "We know who did it. He has never apologized, nor has the government. We believe it is unspeakable that a war criminal will be buried under the flag of the country which fought to free us from Saddam Hussein. We plan to protest this disgrace when her killer dies, but thanks to Senator Snowe, we'll probably be jailed when that happens."

This aspect of the legislation was introduced by Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), who, at the urging of a teenage constituent, proposed new limitations on military funeral demonstrations as a response to a 2011 Supreme Court case that ruled such actions were protected under the First Amendment.

In the wake of that decision, many have turned to counter-protest efforts to block disruptive and insensitive funerary displays, which frequently suggest that accused war criminals have died as God's vengeance for killing innocent civilians, as at Hiroshima, My Lai, Haditha, and in the secret bombing of Cambodia.

The Japanese-American Friendship Society of Nagasaki expressed concerns regarding the law, while the Sons of Ukrainian Veterans of the War for the Liberation of Ukraine from Bolsheviks, Gypsies, Jews, and Sodomites applauded the bill and urged that its protection be extended to immigrant Americans who fought under other flags. "God bless Senator Snowe. I only pray that this law will protect the dozens of surviving Ukrainian-American veterans who fought to keep America, and Ukraine, free of the Jew taint of Leninism" said its President Yuri Demjanjuk, from his home in Cleveland.

The bill also contains a variety of measures meant to address veterans health, benefits, housing and education. Obama is expected to sign to the legislation later this month.

Last 5 posts by Patrick Non-White


  1. says

    Fair Play for Haditha Committee? At 544 Front St.?

    Okay, legs are being pulled here in furtherance of of a point.

    We shouldn't slam the door on free speech just to annoy the Westboro Baptist Church. As always, we have to take the good with the bad if we want it at all.

  2. CKB says

    Um, has someone checked the sources, especially with regards to the so called "Fair Play for Haditha Committee"? I can't find that organization with a simple Google search on their name and I'm fairly certain no Semitic person has the name Abdul Al Hazred. Maybe a 20th century horror writer or two, but no one of Middle Eastern descent.

    Extra Internets for you if you don't have to click on this link because it will mean you are very well read:

  3. says

    It will be interesting to see how finely your readers' satire detectors are calibrated.

    Still, point well taken.

  4. says

    I recently had the pleasure of guest-blogging at a much older and more widely read libertarian site Tam.

    I realized within a short time that I don't appreciate Popehat's commentariat as much as I should.

    "You have to drink a lot of milk to appreciate cream. But it would help to appreciate milk. To do that, you need to drink milk that's gone sour."

    — Stephen King

  5. Ben says

    I do not understand.

    If the Supreme Court has stated that it is protected by the First Amendment, shouldn't Congress have to amend the Constitution if the citizenry decide that we want to prevent the behavior, after all?

    Or is this more of a 'symbolic' law? I am sure there is a better term for such laws – but is this proposed law akin to the laws passed by some of the advocates of segregation, destined to be overturned but passed to make a 'statement' or garner votes?

  6. Allen says

    I enjoyed Yuri Demjanjuk, who, I would assume, is Ivan's cousin.

    I'm allergic to milk so it's all poison anyway. For 45 years I drank milk, then one day. ER city. I really miss milk.

  7. Bill says

    I too am befuddled by the passing of a law that is clearly in opposition to a recent Supreme Court ruling on the precise subject.

  8. Waldo says

    That was a fun read. I particularly enjoyed the comments of Mr. Trohn. I had begun to suspect this was a spoof, but wasn't really sure until the end.

  9. Waldo says

    @ Ben and Bill, from my quick read of descriptions of the law and Snyder v. Westboro, this law does not purport to overturn the Supreme Court decision in any way, shape, or form. The court decision overturned liability for hateful, hurtful, viscious speech that was made in public about a public issue because it's protected by the First Amendment. The law creates time and space restrictions on such speech, but doesn't prohibit it. From what I can tell of Westboro protest at Snyder's funeral, they would have been in compliance with this new law. So, no conflict.

  10. Waldo says

    Last thought for now–as someone who is a big first amendment supporter and thinks the Supreme Court got it right in Snyder v. Phelps, I don't have a problem with the restrictions in this new law. Time and place restrictions on protests at someone's funeral seem reasonable enough to me.

  11. SassQueen says

    Sort of off topic, but I would love it if a bunch of drag queens would show up at a Westboro Baptist church service one of these days…

  12. perlhaqr says

    Bloody hell. I think the Westboro folks are a bunch of serrated enema nozzles, but this law is the wrong answer.

    And ugh to all the commentariat at HuffPo cheering this. *headdesk*

  13. Corporal Lint says

    Sort of off topic, but I would love it if a bunch of drag queens would show up at a Westboro Baptist church service one of these days…

    A friend of mine has a dream of starting a marimba band and dance company that would follow the WBC around the nation, providing an excellent marimba party wherever the WBC chooses to emerge. They'll be fronted by four women in pinstripe suits with fedoras and fake mustaches and a fan-dancing man in a flamenco dress. I suppose they'll wear black armbands when they play funerals. Pretty soon terminally ill veterans will be gaying themselves up in the hope that the WBC will appear at their funeral, thus providing for the sorrowing family some first-rate Mexican percussion music to distract them in the hour of their grief.

  14. Waldo says

    @ perlhaqr (or Patrick if I'm reading this post correctly to infer his opposition to this law), what's so bad about this law? Time and place restrictions on protesting at a soldier's funeral seem reasonable enough to me. Is there more to the law than that?

  15. says

    It is always good to remember that the WBC are not the only protestors in the country.

    The huge two hour window seems to be a blatantly unconstitutional burden on speech, but I wouldn't be surprised if the 300 feet restriction was upheld. If I remember correctly from when Snyder was being heard by SCOTUS, numerous states had passed various minimum-distance laws around funerals in response to the WBC. The 1,000-feet ones tended to get struck down by federal district courts, but the 100-200 feet ones tended to be upheld. 300 seems to be right around the edge.

  16. C. S. P. Schofield says

    Personally, I despise protesters who cloak themselves in the First Amendment in order to behave in ways calculated to cause the target to want to kill them. Personally I would favor a "You asked for it, you got it, don't whine" bill, to the effect that if a protest group invades especially sensitive territory during a ceremony such as a funeral or a church service, and deliberately outrages those present, resulting in an epic beating, the most that those who beat them can be charged with would be misdemeanor littering.

    I suppose that it would be too hard to administer.

    Nevertheless, as I grow older I become increasingly of the opinion that over half of all 'protests' have little to do with making the public aware of issues, and much to do with parading the protesters' self-nominated moral superiority. It makes it goddamned hard to sympathize with them.

  17. Jimmy says

    I missed the satirical nature of this. Not sure how to feel about my reaction, but it was essentially that I was OK with this type of time/place restriction. I felt like I knewshouldn't be OK with it as a restriction on speech, but my honest feelings weren't the same as what my brain was saying.

    Still not sure where I stand. I don't like that the military in this case is some sort of protected class, like it's OK to picket other funerals, just not military ones (somebody correct me if I'm mis-understanding the law, please). Perhaps that what rubs me more than the free-speech restriction.

  18. John David Galt says

    I'm with Waldo. A funeral is, after all, a religious observance, and at some point protesting against it becomes preventing it from taking place.

  19. C. S. P. Schofield says


    While I agree that making the Military a specially protected class is something to watch, I observe that many flavors of protesters have, over the years, targeted members of the military rank and file in protest against the policies set by various administrations. This, frankly, strikes me as a mark of cowardice; the military in this country (unlike the military in many other places) is notably patient with twits and prats. More patient, when you get right down to it, than most police departments. So the 'protesters' get a cheap thrill by harassing, say, a Marine recruiting station, while knowing perfectly well that 99.9% of Marines won't raise a hand against them.

  20. James Pollock says

    I've long advocated this simple solution to the Westboro Baptists, which is simple, elegant, and creates no first amendment issue whatsoever. Just make "plaintiff/victim was protesting at a funeral" a complete affirmative defense to civil and criminal battery.

  21. Aufero says

    The name Abdul Al Hazred seemed familiar, but I couldn't remember the context until I got to the bit about the "War for the Liberation of Ukraine from Bolsheviks, Gypsies, Jews, and Sodomites" and realized I'd been had.

  22. Brad says

    Waldo, good call. When battling over where to draw the line in acceptable limits on the 1st Amendment right to public protest, the right to protest at funerals hardly seems the ground we should fight over.

    I really don't see the harm in this bill. Or does my right to protest include a right to stand up in the middle of a showing of a Batman movie and with a bullhorn berate the audience over how they are contributing to a culture of violence?

    The attempt to satire the news fails because the theoretical protest groups in the satire would have to be colossal fools and douche-bags to want to protest in the same manner as Rev Phelps and his insane clown posse.

  23. Robert says

    The other provisions of the bill hold some interest for me. I was born at Camp Lejeune in 1960. My sister spent some time there as well and she died of kidney failure.

  24. says

    I don't take issue with the idea of people being forbidden from protesting at funerals in general. It shouldn't be restricted to the funerals of veterans, of course.

    First, as I understand it, the owners of private property are permitted to forbid protests on their property. Someone please correct me if I'm wrong, but the funeral home director can just say "no protests" and have the protesters expelled, just as someone can be expelled from a restaurant for disorderly conduct.

    Secondly, I would consider this to be a decency law: There are some behaviors that the law doesn't permit because they're considered widely offensive. We can't say the word 'fuck' on network television, for example. In most areas, women aren't permitted to go topless. I for one don't mind hearing the word 'fuck' and enjoy seeing a nice pair of breasts stroll by, while the idea of someone cruelly tormenting the already suffering mourners at a funeral offends me deeply. Therefore, in my sphere, we should either repeal censorship and female nudity laws or let this one pass without kicking and screaming.

  25. says

    Hasty qualification of prior remark: I do not consider women to be merely walking pairs of breasts. I am a woman myself, and while my breasts have been referred to as my "redeeming trait," I recognize that even Anna Nicole Smith was more complex than that. What I meant to say is that I like breasts in general.

  26. Deadly Laigrek says

    It seems to me that this law is kind of overkill. Generally, rational people don't protest somebody AT THEIR OWN FUNERAL. That would be sadistic. In any event, I think that such a situation could be quickly resolved by simply telling the person protesting to shut the hell up and go away. Failing that, getting the owners of the funeral home/graveyard/etc. involved seems like a really good idea. Someone who's willing to keep staying after being informed by the owners to leave deserves whatever comes their way at that point.

  27. Dave B says

    I enjoyed the thought-provoking nature of this post. Patrick, you have begun to sharpen my satire-detection "skills". Thanks.

  28. says

    @CSP:"Nevertheless, as I grow older I become increasingly of the opinion that over half of all 'protests' have little to do with making the public aware of issues, and much to do with parading the protesters' self-nominated moral superiority."

    Just figuring this out?

    Most of the protests I run into are a)so intrusive into my daily life and b)so filled with self-righteous a-holes that it makes me want to support what they oppose just to spite them. The best way to get me to order a dozen Big Macs is to get me within 50 yards of some PETA types. (Doesn't work for Chik fil A because I was boycotting them years before it was cool (puts on thick rimmed black glasses and goes to Starbucks))

    But, in the end, the Constitution doesn't say "….no law respecting freedom of speech, unless the people speaking are, you know, really total dickwads and you just want to punch them, then it's OK", just like it doesn't say "…or respecting an establishment of religion, unless they it's not Christianity because then it's not a real religion", or "…the right of the people to peaceably assemble, except near the bus terminal when it's 5:30 and you've had a shitty day and you just want to get home already, god damn it". While the article was satirical (and scarily well-done, perhaps all my time in the Bay Area made me inclined to believe such groups existed…), the point is solid: By definition, we have protection of free speech not for causes that are popular, but for those that are not. People saying things other people want to hear don't NEED legal protection. And the more someone's speech makes you want to punch them, the more important it is that this not be permitted, no matter how much one may inwardly cheer every time one reads that the Hell's Angels just ran over a bunch of WBC folks. (My personal moral code does not conflate "do not harm" with "do render aid". Thus, while my own ethics do not permit me to use violence against someone because of their speech, they also do not require me to help them if someone ELSE does. I am a Calvinist (in the Hobbesian sense) and my moral code is exquisitely constructed in accord with the principles of that fine philosopher.)

  29. Gavin says

    @no one in particular:

    I find that freedom of speech is sometimes used to infringe on other people's freedom of speech. Is not the act of honoring a family member's passing an act of free speech in itself? Why should other people be allowed to stop you in your goal just because they're willing to shout you out?

    This is in the same vein as someone going to a college campus to talk on a subject and getting shouted out to the point they can't continue by people there to protest. This is just a public form of silencing others trying to use their own rights. If the government can't infringe on our rights to free speech, why should people be able to? It'd be as if this was a publically owned site and you allowed anyone to edit anyone else's posts and they just threw in random words/letters/numbers between everything I said.

    That being said, it can't be ignored that the protests are free speech too. I just don't think either side should be able to dominate the other and a typically silent and peaceful event can't compete with yells.

    Hmm, it suddenly occurs to me that I'm bringing this up in one of the most knowledgeable places on free speech. I'll probably learn something.

  30. Lindsay K says

    A friend of mine has a dream of starting a marimba band and dance company that would follow the WBC around the nation, providing an excellent marimba party wherever the WBC chooses to emerge.

    Does your friend have a Kickstarter? Because I would fund the HELL out of that.

  31. Corporal Lint says

    First, as I understand it, the owners of private property are permitted to forbid protests on their property.

    This works, but a lot of funerals have graveside elements and these often take place on public property — a city-owned municipal cemetery, or maybe a state-owned veterans' cemetery.

  32. Gavin says

    A friend of mine has a dream of starting a marimba band and dance company that would follow the WBC around the nation, providing an excellent marimba party wherever the WBC chooses to emerge.

    Please, please kickstart this. (seconding Lindsay K.)

    I hear the best thing to do is just find out what hotel they're staying at and just double park behind them so they can't get out.

  33. Lindsay K says

    I hear the best thing to do is just find out what hotel they're staying at and just double park behind them so they can't get out.

    That's adorably passive-aggressive. I love it. (Although not as much as the marimba band.)

  34. Deadly Laigrek says

    That's not infringing on other people's freedom of speech. That's just more speech, exactly what Ken always preaches. Free speech is a marketplace of ideas. Sometimes, in the market, people can get shot down and trampled. But my speech can't silence your speech unless you let it. I can convince others to take my side and speak out against you. You still have the right to talk back. That being said, in some situations, a little courtesy SHOULD be observed. Some people can't do that.

    Hope that clears up that! : : : : )

  35. Anita says

    First, as I understand it, the owners of private property are permitted to forbid protests on their property. Someone please correct me if I'm wrong, but the funeral home director can just say "no protests" and have the protesters expelled, just as someone can be expelled from a restaurant for disorderly conduct.

    @M, You are correct in that the owner of private property can have people removed from their property for pretty much any reason, but certainly for creating a disturbance. The problem comes at the edge of the property where people get removed to. It's usually a public sidewalk, and it's still usually shouting distance.

  36. Gavin says

    @Deadly Laigrek,

    In the situation that I described where a person is trying to give a talk and people enter shouting loudly to protest the speaker, how is that not coming against that person's right to free speech? They're shouting and disrupting the event so that the person cannot continue. The purpose of their activity is to ruin another person's expression of free speech. This isn't entirely different from a DDoS attack where you flood an area with information so it has to shut down/slow down and others can't get to it.

    So I am against speech being used to silence or prohibit other's right to free speech. I imagine enforcing/figuring something like that out would be an absolute debacle but free speech laws are already insanely complex. In this particular scenario the protestor's goal is to prevent the individual from getting the honor they deserve or think they deserve. But the family is likewise just trying to lay them to rest honorably. I have no problem with either of these events taking place, that's their business. But I do have a problem with one of those groups preventing the other group from their own expression.

    In my opinion, anyone who is in favor of free speech should want the quieter voices to also have a chance.

  37. James Pollock says

    "where a person is trying to give a talk and people enter shouting loudly to protest the speaker, how is that not coming against that person's right to free speech?"

    You have a right to speak freely (that is, without fear of being repressed by government) but you don't have a right to be heard.

  38. says

    Hmm, all the burials I've been to have been in the dead middle of the cemetery in private cemeteries, far from any sidewalk. That could well be coincidence, though.

  39. Waldo says

    Hmm, all the burials I've been to have been in the dead middle of the cemetery in private cemeteries, far from any sidewalk. That could well be coincidence, though.

    Never a funeral service at a church before the burial? Churches are usually surrounded by public roadways and/or sidewalks that have to be traveled to get inside. Personally, I'm fine with preventing a bunch of protestors with signs or shouts from spewing hate at the friend and family of the deceased when they're trying to memorialize their lost loved one. Those protestors can say whatever they want at another time or place. And, I don't care whether I agree or disagree with what they're protesting. If the fictitious protestors in Ken's blog were real, I'd feel the same way about them protesting some war criminal's funeral as I do about Westboro protesting a dead Marine's funeral.

  40. Gavin says

    @James Pollock,

    That's always been a cute saying but I still do not think the intent was to also allow people to shut others down. The use of free speech to battle free speech is pretty dumb.

  41. says

    I've been to funeral services in churches, but the sanctuary is always far removed from the sidewalk. Regardless, as I said, I'm totally in favor of the law, at least until other restrictions on freedom of expression such as censorship and the criminalization of public female toplessness are revoked, forcing us to consider the issue as an actuality rather than a half-assedry.

  42. James Pollock says

    Gavin, if you and the people who want to hear what you have to say cannot do so because every time you try, some people who have different opinions in opposition to yours show up and disrupt your speech, find a place to talk where you can exclude those other people. It works for the KKK, for big oil companies, for the Democratic Party, and yes… even for Westboro Baptists. If people with opinions this varied on other topics can agree on something…
    It's a lack of public decorum, and people to partake in such acts are childish and deserve to be called on their behavior (we don't tolerate it in children very long, either.) What it is NOT, however, is a free speech issue.

  43. Deadly Laigrek says

    That's pretty much what I was going to reply with.

    What he said. : : : : P

  44. Deadly Laigrek says

    Of course, now that I think about it, if the people standing up to protest the speaker are doing so on private property, then the property owner has every right to expel them, and in fact, probably should. But every public speaker in the world knows that sometimes, you're just going to have hecklers in the audience. Learn to cope.

  45. Dan says

    To those of you that didn't grasp the sarcasm or were upset when you realized you'd been had in the final lap, let me quote my associate Mr. Beeblebrox:

    "Shee, you guys are so unhip it's a wonder your bums don't fall off."


  46. wgering says

    You had me worried Patrick. I saw that HuffPo link and thought you'd gone off the deep end. Then I saw this:

    "…at the urging of a teenage constituent…"

    As we all know, senators don't do anything at the urging of their constituents, teenage or otherwise.

    Satire to the rescue!

  47. Jack Ryan says

    Abdul Al Hazred is actually an impossible name in Arabic. Abdul is more properly "'Abd al-", or "slave (or servant) of the." It's generally used with one of the names of God. For example, Abdul Aziz, Slave of the Almighty, or Abdullah, Slave of God. So, even if Hazred was a valid last name in Arabic, it would simply be Abdul Hazred, not Abdul Al Hazred. But yeah, it's just a name Lovecraft came up with.

    Not to say that the points raised in this article aren't valid, but that's pretty clearly not a real person's name.

  48. Gavin says

    @James Pollock

    The idea is this,

    Some forms of free speech are different than other forms of free speech. One can be used to ruin the other. There is no reason why we should just let "louder" acts of free speech be used to drown out quieter ones just because it can. Why should loud simply be allowed to win out?

    This has nothing to do with the severity of the topic, just that there are people who oppose it enough to want to silence your voice. Sure, there are apeshit crazies like the KKK that we'd all secretely enjoy seeing silence, but something like abortion is a reasonable example where members of both sides are likely to perform this sort of action against the other. This is primarily the type of discussion I was thinking of when talking about a person going to an event to talk getting shouted out by a group of activists coming in and making so much noise with chanting that the speaker could not be heard (the case I was at was pro-abortion being silenced by pro-lifers, I've seen the reverse happen too). This not only ruins the speaker's attempt at free speech but also negatively impacts the people who took the time to go there to listen to the person. I do NOT think this was the intention of the first amendment by any stretch of the imagination. It was to be able to say what you want to say without fear of persecution, not to silence people who are saying something you disagree with.

    Again, the idea is that the purpose of the action is to attack other people's expression of free speech. If our government cannot do it, why should the citizens be able to do it to each other just because they can scream louder? Is part of our right to free speech really the right to silence others like this? It appears to be, if the Westboro Baptists can just run around doing what they're doing then it clearly is. But I see public speaking events by political parties like John Kerry (don't taze me bro) or even the President where someone gets up and shouts and they're immediately removed for disruption and likely probed for explosives until they can't walk for days. So I guess I'm confused on what is actually permissable and what isn't.

    @Deadly Laigrek,

    I'm generally only talking about public property. Private property should have been another thing altogether. Still, imagine a group that interrupts an event trying to occur on private property by blocking public roads or going to hotels like I recommended for the Westboro group and double parking.

    @Lindsay K,

    There's no reason why you can't double park behind the Westboro group AND have a party. Since you wouldn't be going anywhere outside of walking distance you might as well have a tailgate party with plenty of music.


    Is everyone here super knowledgeable on Arabic and Islamic customs :p? That'll make for some lively discussions later as it's one of my areas of specialization from my BA. Their civil rights issues are deplorable so I would expect serious discussion on the topic to crop up from time to time.

  49. says

    @Gavin: Oh yes! We're also highly skilled at the fine art of sarcasm, as well as impatience with know-it-alls.

  50. Gavin says


    I wasn't seriously asking, so I guess I'm in the right place.

    On a side note, I've actually run across a number of Muslim names that were nonsensical if you approached it the way Jack did. Some are just family-owned names that are getting passed down, especially when you start getting into the American Muslim population. I wonder if Jack's nitpick retort was also meant to be tongue in cheek too. I don't think so, though. In a religion that gives a three step response to put your wife in place (the third step being beating her) I'd guess some weird names slip through every now and then if she ever gets to name them.

  51. says

    @Gavin: I wasn't seriously answering, I'm just a bit of a rottweiler.

    Arabic female given names are some of my favorites. I've "anglicized" the spelling of several of them for use as MMORPG character names.

  52. Grifter says


    I think you may have a few elements of confusion re: public vs. private property in regards to free speech rights. On public property it is often "loudest voice", on private property it is "voice authorized by the owner", hence the Westboro monsters can either shout the loudest or be shouted down so long as they're on public land, while if they step food on private property they can be ejected (or, I suppose, allowed to speak, though who'd choose to do that except themselves I don't know). There are some grey areas (public universities, etc.), but that's the concept, and is why someone can be ejected from a rally (on private property), while the response to public speech is often a louder speech.

    The reason for that is that in the public space, who has the right to determine the volume? The government can't limit (within zoning rules, obviously), and it would be strange logic indeed that said "I want to whisper, so you all have to be quiet so I can be heard" was a valid assertion of rights.

  53. Gavin says

    @M.: Well, I'm not seriously reading this. In fact, I'm just responding ironically… *cough*

    I should note that in my previous post I accidentally used religion and Muslim interchangeably. This is an incorrect assumption, though I did so because his contention was about how such names typically involve religious concepts (it isn't too much of a stretch to associate arabic peoples with being Islamic in much the same way we assume someone calling themselves Jewish is a member of the Judaic religion despite there been no necessary correlation either way and plenty of Jewish people that are members of other faiths).

  54. Gavin says


    Nope, I have no misunderstanding within private/public whatsoever. My discussion is only pointed at public locations just like the laws are.

    What I am saying is that many of these "louder" practices I'm talking about are for the purpose of silencing other's free speech. When did silencing others become itself a legitimat act of free speech? I'm not talking about preventing people from doing offensive things, I'm talking about everyone having a right to freedom of speech and saying that no one should be able to purposely silence the other. Do you think the intention of that law was to allow people the right to do that? What if corporations started sending employees to covertly interrupt any such attempt at freedom of speech that disagrees with them? Sounds like I just came up with a lucrative business model (if it wasn't for the streisand effect).

    Again, I point to events held in public where people are tazed or dragged out of public events for shouting/heckling. Why is that legally acceptable but not preventing people from shouting out funerals and other public events? Do we agree with removing hecklers in that situation?

  55. Grifter says


    "When did silencing others become itself a legitimat act of free speech?"

    I'm pretty sure since forever. That's the public square. Ever see Life of Brian? The street preachers all shouting their own personal theories on the world trying to outshout each other. That has always been part of public demonstrations; the potential for counter demonstrations. Do you think 1 person should have more of a voice than 100, just because if the 100 speak, the 1 can't be heard?

    The Westboro monsters always keep enough distance to be legal. They don't disrupt the funeral itself, they're just offensively close to it. And you could legally heckle an anti-choice or anti-life rally if you wanted to, provided you weren't within the bounds of the rally where they have purchased their permit for their exclusive use and/or on their private property. Because if you try to say you can't do that, you have to question who gets to decide who gets to say what. Ultimately, it would be the government, wouldn't it? And as previously established, they aren't allowed to pick and choose.

  56. James Pollock says

    Gavin, you're working from a misconception. Shouting down other speakers DOESN'T INTERFERE WITH THEIR RIGHT TO SPEAK FREELY. It has NEVER been the case that people were granted a right to not be ridiculed or shouted down for their opinion, whether by a majority or just an extremely vocal minority.
    If you want a guaranteed opportunity to actually HEAR what the speaker has to say, schedule the event in a private hall, where you can exclude the disruptive in a swift and decisive manner.

  57. Gavin says

    Two things:

    1. What is the difference between flooding an area with noise so that no one can hear what someone is saying and physically stopping them from talking? My point is that you are preventing their free speech. Perhaps this stems from the philosophical question of whether or not a tree falling in the woods makes a sound if no one is around to hear it.

    2. What about events like I keep saying where someone "important" gets up to speak and someone shouts something dumb and they get dragged out even if it's in a public university. Why is that not protected speech when other stuff is?

  58. Gavin says


    It isn't a question of the 1 out of 100 having more of a voice. It's about the 1 having a voice at all and it not be squashed by the 99. The problem isn't the 99 having a voice, it's that their intent is to stop the 1 from using their free speech.

    The point of the first amendment is to give that 1 out of 100 a voice. Not to give it and simultaneously allow it to be taken away by the 99.

    I suppose this is besides the point. Thinking about things on a more applicable point you are correct. We could never trust the government to pick and choose who has the right. Status quo it is then (f people who can't outscream their naysayers).

  59. Grifter says


    Basically? Yeah.

    That's the core of free speech, that everyone gets to say what they want, but not that anyone has to listen to them. Here's a similar hypothetical that might help you understand why the balance is struck the way it is:

    Let's say the 100 are, rather than overtalking the 1, just trying to sit in peace. And let's say the 1 is being loud and obnoxiously offensive (but not breaking a law). How do they get him to shut up, except by exercising their own speech? In that circumstance, is the 1 talking as bad as the 100 overtalking in the previous example?

    As regards to people being ejected from University Events: while they have to allow free speech, on the flip side, that doesn't mean that the expression can't be regulated. In the situations you describe, those specific venues had been permitted by the organizers of those events for those events. Thus, they are essentially temporary tenants, with the ability to request ejection. Granted, it's kind of a gray area and open for discussion, but then, I would think it's obviously unreasonable to allow anyone to protest anywhere at any volume and any time so long as the property is the government's…there would be an awful lot of "protesters" in Area 51, and many regular government offices couldn't get their regular work done.

  60. James Pollock says

    "What is the difference between flooding an area with noise so that no one can hear what someone is saying and physically stopping them from talking?"

    Well, in one case someone has been physically stopped from talking, and in the other, they haven't. Again, people who find that the area where they're trying to speak is too noisy for effective communication are free to remove themselves to a place that is not.
    The right to speak freely is not, never has been, and never can be absolute in any society that includes more than one person in it. Here are a few hypotheticals for you to engage.
    Does my right to speak freely mean that, if I am standing next to a parade down main street, and I want to say something, that the marching band passing by must become silent so that I may speak?
    Does my right to speak freely mean that, if I am standing next to the taxiway of a major metropolitan airport, if I wish to speak the jets passing by must shut down their engines so that I may speak?
    Does my right to speak freely mean that, if I am standing in a crowd listening to a speaker, and I want to ask a question, the speaker must stop in order to allow me to speak?

    "What about events like I keep saying where someone "important" gets up to speak and someone shouts something dumb and they get dragged out even if it's in a public university?"
    As you can see, it is possible for different people's right to speak to come into conflict with each other. There are many ways to resolve this problem… such as the method I offered earlier, of speaking on private property, and excluding the unwanted. For public spaces, the method typically used is spacing; public spaces are large and typical crowds are small, so different speakers and their listeners may convene in different parts of the same public space. For large gatherings, however, we use a system called a "permit"… whoever has a permit gets to talk, and whoever doesn't have a permit gets dragged kicking and screaming from the public space. The non-permitted have their rights limited but not eliminated; they remain free to speak at other places or times (Now, IF permits are not available equally to all comers, THEN you have a free-speech violation.)
    If you'd like, I can go on for quite a bit on the trade-offs between contention-based and token-passing-based methods of controlling acces to shared communication media.

  61. Gavin says


    So… if they have a magic gray area where they're temporary tenents (ergo the public university has a magic room that turns into private property the moment someone steps in it to talk), why is this not used more widely? When a soldier is being buried that the Westboro Baptists (I wonder how much Baptists hate the association of names), why don't a bunch of people get a permit to "protest" in every area around the funeral in the locations that Westboro would want to take? Would that allow them to temporarily prevent them from being assholes (publically at least)? This sounds like just a sleazy way to get around the first amendment. Not a gray area at all. If you talk in a public university you should have to deal with the fact that it's a public place.

    As for the other 99 people sitting in silence and the 1 ruining the event. This is the same problem. It doesn't matter how many people are in either side, the loudest voice currently wins.

    My problem is that the current enforcement of the law gives free speech away to the bullies. If I was a company who gets protested often I'd start to hire people to make too much noise at any such rally against me. My problem isn't the people screaming and doing silly stuff, again, my problem is that their intent is to fight against that person's freedom of speech. I do not think the act of disenfranchising others of their attempts at free speech is free speech itself. I don't think the founding fathers thought, "You have the right to free speech and the right to prevent others from free speech".

    The intention was to allow people the right to say stuff without the fear of oppression. Do you think that this was their intention?

    @James Pollock,

    Ah, this is exactly the sort of stuff I was hoping to learn! Thanks for responding. So, we have freedom of speech but we also have laws to get around it by giving individuals the proverbial "talking stick".

    Can individuals get such a permit for a silent expression of speech? Say, the example Grifter mentioned above, can a group of 100 sit in silence via permit and then legitimatly have anyone talking hauled off by the police? Is the person that talked then fined or jailed?

    Likewise, how are such permits obtained? Do they cost money? As such there would already be a barrier to entry and the poorest among us would then have a violated right.

    What do you mean by permits being available to all-comers? Can multiple people obtain the right in the same place? The individual that shouted "Don't Taze me Bro", could he have also gotten a permit? (I assume it's just first come, first serve but I don't know, so I'm asking)

    My main problem as I've said before is that the current enforcement of these great laws lean towards letting the bullies getting to force only themselves to be heard. That sort of "strength wins" undermines the idea of freedom of speech altogether.

  62. Grifter says


    You ignored my example of government offices.

    Do you feel the dean should just have anybody who wants to talk in there allowed to go in there, any time, and say whatever they want, because it's a public university?

  63. Gavin says


    I've been saying the opposite. That people should have their turn and others should not be allowed to drown them out just because they don't agree with them. Being able to do that just flies in the face of the intention of the law which is to give anyone a voice. Not necessarily to be heard, but at least not to be squashed. I do not think the drowning out or hindering of other people's expression of free speech should be considered free speech itself.

    Enforcing things this way could lead to a whole lot of mess, but that doesn't mean it isn't the right thing to do. The problem is, we can't expect officials to act rationally in individual situations, so we can't leave it up to them. In the end it sounds like not protecting the individual from other individuals is less important than making sure the government itself doesn't hinder people. I can understand that, but it doesn't make things like this right.

    I was in Massachusetts a few years ago during the whole gay marriage event (the citizens got the necessary petitions for it to come to a vote on the election ballot but the MA congress did not comply. When the issue was brought to the supreme court the court said the people had gotten the require signatures but that the court couldn't make congress act). A discussion panel sat down to discuss the issue of congress not obeying the laws, which is a significant issue regardless of where you stand on the topic at hand.

    But, because of its ties to the gay marriage (something the panel expressly forbade discussion of), a group of gay marriage proponents came in and shouted them out so they couldn't have their discussion.

    Perhaps they had a permit, perhaps not, either way the panel had to disperse because the group wouldn't even talk with them.

    I do NOT think that group was expressing free speech. I think they were ignorantly silencing others just because they were willing to shout louder. Colleges are being less and less willing to enforce permits because they don't want to be the next big news story of intolerance, but this kind of stuff is getting out of hand where people can't even have legitimate discussions in even the appropriate place.

  64. James Pollock says

    Gavin, as long as you stay stuck on the idea that there is, ever has been, ever will be, or ever should be an absolute right to free speech, you will remain troubled, because it is neither wise, nor practical, nor even possible to have such a thing.
    The right to speak wherever, whenever, and however you want has never existed. Even the right to speak whatever you want has a couple of important limitations.
    For example, when I was younger, agents of the government REPEATEDLY and CONTINUALLY silenced my free expression of ideas, in a public building no less, and this brutal government repression continued for twelve long years. Were my legal rights trampled? Not even a little bit, and eventually I graduated. And enlisted. Don't even get me STARTED on the limitation of my right to speak freely during basic military training…
    If I'm talking with a friend whilst walking down the sidewalk, and a guy on the corner is screeching a "sermon" so loudly that conversation becomes impossible, I have a few choices: 1) Try to get the guy to STFU. 2) amplify my voice to compete. 3) Just go inside, where it's quiet.

  65. James Pollock says

    "that just flies in the face of the intention of the law which is to give anyone a voice. "
    This is not the intention of the law. Never has been.

  66. Gavin says

    @James Pollock,

    1. It gives them a voice by preventing it from being squashed. The idea is that you can express without being persecuted. How would you define it?

    2. I don't think you can do it whenever/where ever. That's not the point. The point is coming against a person legitimately expressing themselves in the right place at the right time getting squashed by another group with no other intention but to silence him. In the same way that the government shouldn't be able to do that, these people shouldn't be able to either. What's to keep a company from doing it?

  67. Grifter says

    @Gavin: I think you focus on the fact that they're supposedly "preventing speech", while not quite getting that they are expressing speech of their own. Are you saying it's mean, like on par with saying to someone "you're fat and ugly", or are you saying it's somehow worse than that?

  68. James Pollock says

    "The idea is that you can express without being persecuted."
    Where on Earth did you get the idea that anyone has a right to express without being persecuted?

  69. Rick Statham says

    Forgive me if I am mistaken, but isn't the point of the First Amendment – or all of the Amendments for that matter – to protect us from the government infringing upon our rights? Especially since it starts off with "Congress shall make no law…"

    The point of free speech is not to stop private citizens from being offensive, outspeaking you, or bothering you… It is to stop the government from preventing you from speaking.

    As abhorrent as the WBCs actions are – and as retired military I truly find them loathesome – their ability to be offensive is, and should, be protected.

  70. Gavin says

    @James, since when did persecute become something mild like being called names? I mean the legitimate definition. Physical harm, financial ruin (for saying things people disagree with), imprisonment, probings, etc.

    @Grifter, I'm saying that preventing others from exercising their speech should not be a protected form of free speech itself.

    It's like this, imagine there's a bench and a law that says everyone has a right to use that bench. Imagine I am sitting down on the bench and someone comes up and pushes me off so he can lay down on the bench in such a way that others can't use it. Yes, he should have a right to use the bench, but no, he shouldn't have a right to shove others off of it. That should not be considered a legitimate use of that right.

    So, yes, they are using self expression/speech, which they do have a right to, but they are using it in a way that should be unacceptable. That way, being, to silence others and to get in the way of their rights. I have no problem with them walking around yelling mean things. Just with them doing it in a way to keep others from doing it themselves just because they're willing to yell louder.

    So, in my opinion, creating noise = free speech, creating noise to hinder other people's free speech =/= free speech.

  71. James Pollock says

    Gavin, perhaps English is not your first language, so I'll repeat with clarification. Where on Earth did you get the idea that anyone has a right to express without being persecuted? (Where "persecuted" refers to exclusion, physical violence, or financial ruination… I'm not sure where you got this "being called names" definition, but it's certainly not from anything *I* wrote.)

    Once again, you're complaining about a lack of politeness, not a lack of freedom. Freedom of speech is inherently loud.

  72. Grifter says


    But in terms of what we've discussed, isn't it more like there's a bench, that anyone can sit on, and one person sits on it, and 4 other people think that guy's an asshole, so they sit on the bench? They don't stop him from sitting on the bench. They don't push him off. Guys 2-5 aren't preventing Guy 1 from using the bench at all. They're just making it unpleasant to do so, and less comfortable/useful.

    Actually "pushing" the guy off the bench would be analogous to, say, physically preventing someone from speaking, or using threats of violence to prevent them from speaking. Neither one of which has been defended.

  73. Gavin says


    The right to free speech is not inherently "loud", not since it has been applied to expression. It can be almost anything from the burning of a flag to dressing like a woman even though you're a man. Speech, therefore, does not mean "talking", not necessarily. Expressions involving volume is merely a subset of the larger set.

    Most acts of persecution that individuals can impose on other individuals are already illegal. So it can be assumed that whatever offense you took to me saying we have a right to do this without persecution must be some of the lamer/non-illegal things that persecution has evolved to mean today. Please, by all means, specify any legally sanctioned form of persecution we can carry out against a member of say, the KKK, just because they say crazy shit that we all hate.


    This goes back to the philosophical question of whether or not a tree falling in an empty forest makes a noise. In the same way, these people essentially creating an empty forest around the falling tree. If a person in an empty forest gives a speech, do they make a sound? Basically, flooding an area with sound waves masks and eventually covers up any other sound waves. They are preventing the person from using their right and that is the INTENT of what they're doing. This is what I have a problem with.

    I do not have a problem with individuals using the bench, I have a problem with a bunch of people using the bench to prevent a certain person from sitting there. In essence, they are taking a black magic marker and censoring all the words on a page.

    I do not agree with it being an inherrent right to do this. Again, the problem isn't that they're being noisy or rude. The problem is that they're doing it to thwart their attempts at free speech.

  74. James Pollock says

    Well, let's see. Some people are assaulted, or even killed, for what they say. Some are driven from the community for what they say. Some are driven into financial ruin for what they say. Some people are imprisoned for what they say. Still not sure why you seem to think "persecuted" means something other than "persecuted".
    I'm still wondering where you got the idea that anyone has a right for any of these things not to happen. You, um, have dodged that question several times now.

  75. Grifter says


    So your point is that you think that speech you don't agree with (on this subject) should be banned? I'd like to ask if you have any examples of it ever happening where it's just noise, where the opposing side is not also expressing their speech (albeit with a presumed intent). If it's broadcasting white noise at a high decibel to drown out the speaker, we can have that debate. But that doesn't actually happen, AFAIK. What happens is the protesters speak their opinion, drowning out the opinion they're disagreeing with, which is their intent in your opinion. And you think they shouldn't be able to drown out the speaker's speech with their own.

    To that I repeat a point previously made: the right to free speech is not the same as the right to be heard, or the right to an audience. It is a definitively true statement that if they aren't preventing his speech, they aren't preventing his speech.

    What you're just saying that they're making his speech ineffective, which is something else entirely, and a debate we can have, a debate we do have often in the public square (with permits etc.), but in the hypotheticals you've presented, the right of speech has not once been abrogated.

  76. Grifter says

    @James Pollack:

    I'm kind of confused at your point, at this point, and Gavin may be too.

    Are you saying that people don't have the right to speech without being imprisoned? Or are you asking for his justification so you can extend it to a further argument? Because this:

    "Some people are imprisoned for what they say…I'm still wondering where you got the idea that anyone has a right for any of these things not to happen."

    reads odd to me.

  77. Gavin says


    I see what you mean, but I have no problem with them stating their opinion. I have a problem with them stating it in a way that intentionally silences others. In that scenario, I think their sentiment is protected but their action should not be. So it isn't what they're saying, it's the way that they're doing it.

    As with the inane bence example I made. It isn't that they're sitting on the bench, it's that they're purposefully sitting in such a way as to prevent someone else from getting a spot. The right of use does not mean the right of monopoly of the use.

  78. Grifter says

    But they aren't preventing someone else from getting a spot. They're sitting in a way that makes it uncomfortable to sit there, but you can sit there.

    They don't silence the person, they just make it hard for the person to be heard by an audience, and presumably there isn't an audience to begin with, really.

    Can you give some specific, newslinked examples of the type of behavior that you're attacking?

    Are you against the "maroon wall" that blocked the funeral from the Westboro monsters? Again, those folks didn't attack the WM, nor did they prevent them from talking, but they did make it hard for the WM to get their message over to the people who the wallers felt would be harmed by hearing it. At the same time, had people wanted to hear the message, it was trivially easy to do so. In the case of a park preacher, who may be drowned out by a group of people, if someone actually wants to hear what that person says, it's trivially easy for that person to just stand close to the street preacher and hear the message that's being drowned out. If someone prevents you from doing that, that's a whole different ballgame.

  79. Gavin says

    Here's the idea. There is a limited amount of space for sound waves. This is the same for the rest of the spectrum of waves, only so much can exist in the same area without creating a conflict.

    These people are hopping in and flooding the space with no other intention than to prevent that person from being heard. It is an action they are specifically taking to harm that person's use of their legal right to free speech.

    The maroon wall people, in my opinion, just protected the funeral's right to free speech by keeping the "loud" bullies out. A funeral is a symbolic expression of respect and often silence is part of this. This is a prime example of "loud" usually being allowed to trump quiet expressions of free speech. The maroon wall didn't prevent them from protesting the funeral, they prevented them from protesting the funeral close enough to ruin those people's use of free speech in form of a funeral.

    In these scenarios, the protestors don't just want to protest the funeral, they want to interfere with the funeral and prevent it from being a peaceful respectful event. So the purpose is exactly what I object to, the intent of ruining and impeding someone else's rights. I do not care that the Westboro Baptists are dicks, or that they protest funerals. I care that they protest funerals in a disrespectful manner WHILE the people are trying to have a nice peaceful funeral. Both actions are expressions of free speech, but the loud assholes win out because they're willing to scream louder. Again, I do not think any form of free speech should just automatically be allowed to win because it is more forceful. I think they should both have their own place and not be able to prevent or harm the other.

  80. Gavin says

    Oh, as to there not being audiences. I have done little but cite events where they do. Like the event in MA that I cited where the government was defrauding the public's democratic process. Because it was tied to a volitile issue a group of people drowned out the speaker and made an auditorium full of people there to hear the speaker unable to do so.

    The same occurs at a funeral if the westboro people are able to get close enough to override those speaking there. Some day I hope that technology will be able to provide an invisible sound barrier for just such events, but that will only solve specific problems and not problems like the auditorium issue I mentioned above.

    When we talk about this, I know what some people are probably thinking about. They're thinking about people who go up to assholes shouting hateful messages and then shout to override their messages of hate. But it's becoming much more subtle than this. People are shouting out people who just have a difference in opinion and aren't even necessarily espousing any sort of hate whatsoever. That discussion panel in the auditorium was to talk about the threat to democracy it imposes if congress rejects a legal petition to put something on a ballot for people to then vote on. They weren't saying anything about the issue at hand, just the need for congress to follow their own laws to give people a voice. When those people came in and drowned him out with their stupidly inane chants that had nothing to do with the issue at hand, their purpose was just to keep the speakers from being heard. They weren't stopping hate speech, they were ignorantly stopping something for unrelated reasons.

    The idea that we have simply relinquished free speech to the bullies is sickening. This is not what the founding fathers had in mind. I doubt they'd have put up with someone going into an auditorium in their day and doing that. The whole point is to broaden discussion and allow new ideas to progress or enrich mankind. Not to enable assholes to just shout over someone else.


  1. […] Popehat (in a post I've already linked once) takes the law to task in their own unique style, with even more fun to be had in the comments.  Hot Air opines on the law in two posts, but both express similar concerns. I hate to say it, but this certainly does smell of pandering. There’s no easier path to public praise for politicians than to do something to support our military and veterans. (And rightly so.) But there’s a difference between doing something substantive to help them and just passing a bill which you know will get shot down just so you can look like you’re being tough on the protesters. If the government can regulate speech to the point where they can prevent you from showing up two hours before until two hours after an event, that would be a precedent which could very quickly get out of control. […]