The editorial about the Westboro Baptist Church's protest at a soldier's funeral ("Hateful, but not illegal," Oct. 7) entirely misses the point. Of course the speech is hateful. Of course it is not illegal. It seems to me that this is not so much a free speech case as it is a gate crashing case. People holding a funeral have their own rights: freedom of assembly, freedom of association, privacy. What is more private and personal than a funeral?
And there is the issue of public order. There is a long history of local authorities separating groups exercising their otherwise perfectly legal right of assembly in order to avoid a public disturbance. If Group A obtains a parade permit for a march at a given place and time, opposing Group B cannot just show up and expect to parade at the same place and time. Why would the same not apply to a funeral, or a wedding, or even a picnic?
When a funeral is arranged, the cemetery has been paid for the use of the property. And the family holding the funeral should have the full right of privacy that they would have in their church or in the funeral home. These hateful, sad and bitter people from Westboro Baptist have a right to their opinions. They have a right to make fools of themselves expressing those views in public. They may even have a right to express those views at the cemetery. But they do not have the right to be at, or near enough to the cemetery, to be a disturbance, the same day and time as the funeral. It defies common sense.
If the private functions of people and families were widely disrupted in this fashion by anyone who disagreed with some aspect of their lives, the public outcry and the potential for civil disorder would quickly decide the issue for the courts.
William Adams, Ellicott City