Could You Arrest the Westoro Idiots in Your State?
Most people here know I'm only a former Texas Reserve Police Officer, but I believe strongly that the Westboro Baptist Church idiots could definitely be arrested in Texas for Disorderly Conduct, for Disrupting a Meeting or Procession, possibly even Harassment.
Of course, we have a new law against Picketing a Funeral, but it is very watered down - It only establishes a 1000 ft buffer zone from the church (which does not protect the procession, and as far as I can tell, the Westboro idiots have so far obeyed 1000 ft buffer zones anyway, so that law has no effect, really).
For the life of me though, I don't know why they have not been arrested every time they picket a Texas funeral on the OLD laws. I will explain:
The Supreme Court ruling by its own admission is fairly narrow, and invited further laws to be considered on the matter, since it was a civil case whose facts were not ideal for a positive ruling,
For example, it did not address whether or not the protesters can be arrested for subjecting the family to written or verbal abuse and obscenity, since the family never even saw the picketers and could not read their signs, but our current Disorderly Conduct, Disrupting a meeting or procession, and Harassment laws do address those issues I think, if the family were to hear the chants and read the signs.
It seems like Disorderly Conduct is a slam-dunk, because it covers "abusive, indecent, profane, or vulgar language in a public place, and the language by its very utterance tends to incite an immediate breach of the peace". Since it only requires the offense to be knowingly abusive, it doesn't require any intent to harm the family. Westboro's hateful accusations are certainly provoking, abusive and hurtful, so it is a breach of the peace in my mind. They definitely committed the abuse knowingly, since they have been notified many times in TV interviews, shouts and letters that they are causing emotional distress to family members, who are a captive audience while the funeral is in progress.
Then look at Disrupting a Meeting or Procession - On its face, it is obvious that any family member or friend in the funeral procession would be severely disturbed by the picketers, which I would call disruption. It requires "with intent to prevent or disrupt a lawful meeting, procession, or gathering, ... interferes with the meeting, procession, or gathering by ,,, verbal utterance". Well, yes they reportedly did make verbal utterances, but in this case I don't think the family heard it over the PGR's motorcycles, which makes it a bad case to take to the Supreme Court. If the family had heard the picketers and they were asked to leave and didn't, that might imply intent, seems to me, as do their TV interviews. Either that, or they are insane because they can't tell right from wrong.
The last law which may apply is Harassment. It requires electronic or written communication, but last time I checked, picket signs are written. It requires only a comment that is "obscene", which can be just a description of a sexual act. In the Supreme Court decision, note that at least one sign depicted two men engaged in sex, and the other placards certainly set the context of that pictograph. I would let the DA, Judge, and Jury decide whether that is a written "description of a sexual act", but even though it's a bit of a stretch, it could certainly be an additional charge for the arrest even though it may not fly as a primary charge.
The parents of the soldier have rights that need to be protected too, which after all, is the purpose of all criminal laws.
The Supreme Court all but admitted the fact that if the family in the funeral are a captive audience and not public figures, both would normally tilt the balance toward the family's rights not to be verbally abused, and away from the picketer's 1st Amendment rights - After all, the funeral attendees cannot leave the scene unless they cancel the funeral, which no one expects them to do.
However, the Supreme Court said that they were prevented from applying the Captive Audience rule only because the family did not actually see what the protester's signs said even though they were 200 feet away at one point, because people, perhaps the Patriot Guard Riders, were blocking the view. They only found out what the signs said when they saw the TV news reports that night. The Supreme Court opinion, as I read it, left the door wide open to criminal conviction, should the facts of the case support a Captive Audience at the time that the protest was happening.
The Supreme Court also mentioned that In KKK demonstrations, Black Panther rallies and the like, the audience is not captive, and free to leave the area if they are offended, after all. They seemed to imply that's the main reason that the speech is protected, no matter how much the spectators are offended. But it still seems to me that the Disorderly Conduct law might apply, depending on whether the KKK or Black Panthers were shouting abusive language, or waving obscene signs that could be defined as Harassment, but from what I've seen, their conduct isn't abusive like Westboro's signs are.
The offenses I mentioned probably wouldn't result in jail time, but as I see it, they are certainly arrestable offenses like this in Texas, and it can certainly be argued that an arrest was necessary as opposed to a ticket, warning, or delayed arrest warrant, so that a possible source of violence can be defused by removing one party from the area.
The arrests would at least separate the parties from each other for a few hours, which might wind up protecting the protesters more than the family if someone snaps. Often, separating the parties temporarily is all a police officer can hope to do.
Am I missing something here, even in Texas? I think they've already been to Texas a few times, with no resulting arrests. I suspect it's just fear of litigation more than a question of justification, since after all, most of the Westboro picketers are lawyers from what I hear. That means they take turns defending each other in court at no charge, which puts them at a definite financial advantage over the city.