by Rep. Julie Parrish
Recently, a letter from the ACLU in opposition of HB 3241 reached my inbox at the Legislature. The bill would require a buffer zone between funeral goers and funeral protesters. In it, the ACLU describes why they believe the bill to be unconstitutional, and how the courts will continue to uphold the free speech rights of those like Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church followers. However, neither the original nor amended versions of the bill say people can’t protest at a funeral should they choose to be that obnoxious.
The slogan on the ACLU website says, “Because Freedom Can’t Defend Itself”. I’m not a constitutional lawyer, but I’m pretty sure that the authority to defend freedom and uphold the Constitution lies with the Commander in Chief of the United States, who shall, through executive order, direct the US Military and the militias of state governments, when called into the actual service of the United States, to be the defenders of freedom, specifically, to defend and protect the Constitution. Nowhere have I ever read in that document that the defense of freedom lies with the ACLU and its interpretation of our charters of freedom.
The ACLU’s opposition to HB 3421 engages in hairsplitting, and while that is their Constitutional right, it does a disservice to those who are the true defenders of our freedom. My husband puts on a uniform every day to defend the Constitution of both the United States and the State of Oregon. He is willing to lay down his life for the freedom that a 235-year old piece of paper gives to every citizen, freedom which some Americans take for granted, and freedom that the ACLU seems hell-bent on “defending” through litigation to the most extreme position imaginable, typically for the ACLU’s own agenda.
I do not for one moment believe that our founding fathers, when constructing a document that allowed for both freedom of religion and freedom of speech, ever intended that one could exercise their right to freedom of speech for the purpose of overpowering another’s right to a peaceful exercise in religious worship. Funeral rites are entrenched in nearly every known religion; so arguably, funeral and burial rites should have equal protection under the First Amendment.
Interestingly, if one were to simply weigh the value of the placement order of freedoms listed in the First Amendment, religion was the first order of business, with freedom of speech listed as subsequent to religion. People came to the United States not because they were opining a lack of free speech – they were specifically fleeing religious persecution. Freedom of speech was but one piece of the equation.
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
As much as the ACLU decries the free speech issues in HB 3241, I have yet to see the ACLU champion the rights of those whose right to worship under the law is threatened by those funeral protesters engaging in a form of religious persecution.
Should the time come in our country that these freedoms are truly under attack, it will not be the ACLU that rides in to defend them, it will be the only body that is recognized by the Constitution to act in our defense….the United States Military at the direction of the Commander in Chief. I have yet to see anyone from either the State or Federal military departments of any branch of service step forward and announce that HB 3421 is an attack on the liberties and freedoms afforded to citizens under the US Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
If the courts are siding with individuals like Fred Phelps and his family of protesters, it could be that the lens they use to evaluate the cases, freedom of speech, is being held at the wrong angle. Light shines through every surface of a prism. Maybe it’s time our courts see these cases not as a challenge to one’s right to exercise free speech, but rather, as an affront on one’s right to worship freely as they see fit.
The ACLU’s concern about free speech should not drown out the other protections afforded United States citizens. When this bill comes for a vote, I’m going to err on the side of the Constitution that protects citizens from obstruction, intrusion, and threats as they worship under the rights granted them by the supreme law of the land.