Strange times, these, when Congress finds it necessary to pass a law barring demonstrations at military funerals at national cemeteries. But that is exactly what happened last week in the U.S. Senate in a bill appropriately labeled “Respect for America’s Fallen Heroes Act.” The measure prevents protests within 300 feet of the entrance of a national cemetery and 150 feet of a road into the cemetery, from 60 minutes before to 60 minutes after a funeral.

The U.S. House passed a nearly identical bill two weeks earlier. Both measures specifically target Kansas church members whose newfound mission in life is to stage protests at military funerals around the country. Why? Because, they claim, the deaths are a sign of God’s anger at U.S. tolerance of homosexuals.

How one can make such a leap of illogic is as puzzling as the group itself.

According to the Associated Press, Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., said he took up the issue after attending a military funeral in his home state where mourners were greeted by what he called “chants and taunting and some of the most vile things I have ever heard.”

Demonstrators are led by Rev. Fred Phelps of Topeka, Kan. who has previously organized protests against those who have died of AIDS and gay murder victim Matthew Shepard.

For his part, Rev. Phelps is quoted as saying he feels Congress is blatantly violating his First Amendment rights to free speech in passing the bill. He said if the measure becomes law he will continue to demonstrate but will abide by the restrictions.

Making the connection between homosexuality and war dead is mind boggling enough. But for Rev. Phelps to think it is okay to express such extreme insensitivity by disrupting a service meant to honor the dead and interrupting the grieving of those affected most by it, is unconscionable.

Congress is right in putting a stop to it in the areas in which they have jurisdiction, at national cemeteries.

Rev. Phelps’ right to free speech at military funerals should be muffled in the same manner as if he were crying “Fire!” in a crowded theatre, and for the same reasons. First, there is no connection between his manufactured calamity and reality, and second, both scenarios are unnecessarily unsettling to those gathered for the event.

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