This summer my father joined a biker gang called the Patriot Guard. Typically our perception of a biker gang is filled with Kurt Russell’s movie shots and “The Terminator”-like toughness. Naturally, I was skeptical, until I learned the Patriot Guard is a large group of motorcycle enthusiasts who refuse to let deceased soldiers’ funerals become a spectacle of narrow-minded protest.
Many Kansas natives – especially K-State students who have attended a Landon Lecture – are blessed with the most elite of the narrow-minded protestors. By that, I am talking about the Westboro Baptist Church and its founder, Fred Phelps. With a true abuse of their First Amendment rights, the members protest everything from Landon Lectures to funerals of soldiers killed in action.
This is where the Patriot Guard comes into play. At the request of a soldier’s family – and only at their request – a group of motorcycle riders, ranging anywhere from 30 to 200 riders will escort the soldier’s body from the airport to its resting location. They also will attend the funeral to keep the protestors at bay. Luckily for all of us, they are getting some legal help.
According to National Public Radio on Nov. 2, a jury sentenced the Westboro Baptist Church to pay more than $10 million in damages for protesting a Marine’s funeral. Obviously, the ruling has sparked serious debates about the First Amendment.
It seems we live in a time where anything can be said because people claim it under their First Amendment right. In this instance, the Phelps crew waves signs in the air thanking God for dead soldiers. Even scarier, they have kids holding signs who look too young to write the signs they hold.
Let’s overlook the beautifully colored sweat suits they insist on wearing and address their argument of free speech. I love the First Amendment – anything that lets me shoot my mouth off or write what I want to write is an amazing and forgiving tool. However, we can all agree the First Amendment is not a complete pass.
It protects our right to speak, yes – but not our right to hurt. I personally find pride in the 37 states and Congress which have passed laws prohibiting protests at federal cemeteries. It reminds us – despite what might happen – there is a human side to politics.
On Nov. 1, the Boston Globe published the next event the Phelps crew intends to protest – a play about Mathew Sheppard. From plays to soldiers’ funerals, the church of Phelps seems hell bent on protesting the idea of being homosexual.
In any event, the church is $10 million poorer. Its cause is now being seen for the ridiculous spectacle it is, and despite living in a state that thinks it is necessary to add a constitutional amendment about marriage, I am proud to live in a country so willing to take action.
Motorcycle riders – look up the Patriot Guard and learn how to get involved in shutting up these sweatpants-clad protestors.
Kevin Phillips is a senior in legal communication. Please send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org