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Opinion

EDITORIAL: Suffolk's wise protest limitfor military funerals

Funerals are emotional, spiritual and most often - no matter how well-known the deceased or dramatic the death - inherently private affairs. Our social compact has long acknowledged that we respect this moment of mourning and condemn those who don't.

Suffolk County has come up with a fitting response to the abhorrent behavior of the Westboro Baptist Church based in Topeka, Kan. This group shows up at military funerals to get maximum attention for its hateful message that "soldiers are dying for the homosexual and other sins of America."

For more than a decade, the guerrilla tactics of this tiny group have given it outsize media attention at the expense of families already suffering. Sometimes even the threat of the group's appearance, which is what happened before a soldier's funeral on Shelter Island recently, accomplishes its goal. In response to such tactics, four states have passed laws restricting funeral protests and another 18 are considering such measures.

One of the enduring strengths of our nation is that we protect the voices of bigots and the speech of others with unpopular messages. But that doesn't mean it can't be limited. Suffolk seems to have struck this balance, with its narrowly drawn law that says from an hour before to an hour after a military funeral, protesters can be kept at a 150-foot distance.

The real message from Suffolk to Westboro, however, is not a legalistic one but a moral one: Have you no decency? hN

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