Michigan funeral protest law traps mourners. Political signs in van land couple in jail after friend’s service
Lewis Lowden is suing Clare County Michigan and two of its sheriff’s deputies for violating their civil rights under Michigan’s 2006 funeral protest law.
In 2007 Lewis and Jean Lowden were pulled out of a funeral procession honoring a 25-year-old Army corporal killed in Iraq whom they had known for 15 years, had homeschooled and had taken camping and fishing. The reason? Having a few handmade signs critical of the Bush administration in their van window violated the Michigan funeral protest law. A search of the van revealed a hatchet, machete and two knives Lowden said he used for camping. The couple was jailed for carrying concealed weapons.
Former Clare County Prosecutor Norman Gage believes there’s a problem with Michigan’s law, hastily enacted in reaction to incendiary protests at military funerals by the Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church. “I feel bad that the Lowdens had to go through this,” Gage said. “But sometimes, unfortunately, the laws aren’t well written, and this may well be a good example of a well-intentioned law that wasn’t well written.”
The problem appears to be a free speech issue. “We’re not questioning the benevolent intent of the law to protect mourners from being disrupted at funerals,” said American Civil Liberties Union Michigan lawyer Daniel Korobkin, who filed suit on the Lowdens’ behalf. “But history shows us — and this case shows — that efforts to silence even the most outrageous, repugnant, offensive and hateful speech always backfires and always ends up punishing the speech of innocent people like the Lowdens.”
posted by Karen Jones, author of DEATH FOR BEGINNERS Your No-Nonsense, Money-Saving Guide to Planning for the Inevitable www.deathforbeginners.com
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