Schieffer: First Amendment Rights Gone Too Far?

I've spent most of my life defending the First Amendment. But when the Supreme Court ruled last week that it gave a church group the right to picket a dead soldier's funeral with signs that said, "God Hates You" and "Thank God for Dead Soldiers," I was appalled.

The group believes our soldiers are dying because God is punishing America for tolerating gay people. That anyone would have the audacity to claim knowledge of God's reasoning is ridiculous, but here's what I don't understand.

The courts have long held that free speech can be limited in rare circumstances. We can't yell fire in a crowded theater if there is no fire, because it would endanger public safety - people might be trampled in the chaos.

The First Amendment has done just fine with that limit.

But if that is so, why isn't public safety endangered when a mob hurls brutal abuse at an innocent citizen who could be scarred with severe and lasting emotional damage?

We must obey the law, because we are a nation of laws. But whatever the laws, what these military families have endured is not right, and every community must now move quickly to establish buffer zones (which are legal) to keep these protesters as far as possible from military funerals.

When there are those among us so selfish and cruel they are willing to use one of our most cherished freedoms to intrude on the grief of parents who have lost a child just to promote their cause, we must do everything legally possible to deter them.

The court has ruled, but the effort to protect these families must go on.










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    Bob Schieffer is CBS News' chief Washington correspondent and anchor of Face the Nation.

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