The first amendment establishes “the right of the people (to) peaceably … assemble” … yeah yeah we already know that.
When dealing with any law, especially constitutional law, it is important to consider the spirit of the law, which can often be somewhat different from the verbatim reading ( see Letter and spirit of the law ).
This difference between spirit of the law and letter of the law is sometimes due to the difficulty of expressing a complicated thought with words, or other times due to the lawmakers desire to keep a written law vague, thus opening the door for many ambiguous interpretations.
If we trust only in the literal written words of a law we may misunderstand the purpose, the intent, of the law.
So now we have people protesting at soldiers funerals, and they feel that it is ok to do so because the first amendment says, in words, that they can. But somehow it just doesn’t seem right … is it?
PRAGMATIC ANALYSIS – we can summarize the variables involved in this discussion and determine how they all stack up ( here’s a quick qualitative summary ) …
- what was the intention, the concern, of the ‘freedom to assemble’ clause?
- Soldiers are political figures, but they are also people; thus when protesting the politic of the soldier’s position, protesters are also disturbing a family’s most painful and personal grieving moment – did the authors intend on assemblage being used in such a way?
- assemblage is intended to enable people to voice an opinion, and to enable the building of idea-momentum of some common belief, but certainly the location of the assembly is questionable: at the local courthouse to protest property taxes, in front of a restaurant that uses child labor, at a soldiers funeral ( which of these is different from the others ).
- the property outside of a cemetery is public property, but undoubtedly the boisterous attitudes of the protesters are carried into the funeral service by the unsuspecting funeral attendees as they pass by the protest area when entering the cemetery.
- what is meant by ‘peaceably’?
- the protesters have clearly been given the right to protest, but that protest, or the carrying out of it, must not pose wrongs against others.
- what else?
COMMON SENSE ANALYSIS – protesting a person’s funeral service just doesn’t seem right, and I’m sure this is NOT what the authors had in mind when they wrote the first amendment. If you want to protest, do so; but there are plenty of locations where you can do so without being cruel and inconsiderate, and still effectively be heard.