It may be their right, but is it the right setting?

By: Scott Stein, Senior Account Executive, Leonard & Finco Public Relations, Inc.

Having spent many years as a news reporter, it’ll come as no surprise that I feel strongly about the important rights included in the First Amendment to the Bill of Rights…freedom of the press and freedom of speech among them. So when it comes to those who protest every move that Gov. Scott Walker makes, or those who choose to picket outside military funerals, I won’t argue that they don’t have that right.

In fact, I’ve been to a couple of events where protesters were present. At one location the protesters were picketing outside of the event I was attending. At the other, the protesters made it rather difficult to hear what the governor was saying. Nonetheless, they were certainly within their rights to be there and take those actions.

But at some events, I feel the protests are simply out of place, including the protest against the governor at a ceremony honoring the Special Olympics. Granted, it was a silent protest, but those participating still disrupted a program that should have been all about and for the Special Olympians here in Wisconsin.

The most recent event was the opening ceremony for the Wisconsin State Fair. Reports indicate that about 60 protesters disrupted the ceremony, trying to shout down the governor during his brief speech. The State Fair has a long history of being a family-friendly event with a strong emphasis on Wisconsin’s farm heritage. It’s a tremendous honor for the kids who win the right to exhibit their animals or other projects at the fair. And some of them were among those attending the opening ceremony and witnessing the protests last week.

Then there are those who protest outside the funerals of military personnel killed in action. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled earlier this year that “such speech cannot be restricted simply because it is upsetting or arouses contempt.”

I have to wonder if these are appropriate settings to protest and picket. Certainly there are many other venues where protesters can carry their message to the public without intruding on a special event for kids or causing further pain for a grieving family. Yes, I will continue to argue for people’s rights to protest, but I will also argue that there are times and places that are more appropriate than others to carry on those protests.

Let me know what you think.