As we mentioned earlier today, Fred Phelps and his clan at the Westboro Baptist Church are planning to protest at Elizabeth Edwards’ funeral Saturday. This funeral protest shouldn’t come as a surprise, since the group – known for their gaily colored “God Hates Fags” signs – has taken to protesting at the funerals of war veterans.
It goes without saying that the members of the Kansas-based “church” are homophobic, anti-Semitic hate-mongers who are using their First Amendment rights to shield themselves from criminal prosecution. Make no mistake, however: by continually and venomously pushing people’s buttons, the church is creeping ever closer to its final judgement day.
In October, the Supreme Court heard a case against Phelps brought by Albert Snyder, the father of a U.S. soldier whose funeral was picketed by the Westboro Baptist Church in 2006. On November 30, the church group was followed after a protest by a wounded vet who “was allegedly carrying an M4 rifle, a .45-caliber Glock pistol and a .38 Smith and Wesson pistol in his vehicle at the time of his arrest.” Retired Sgt. Ryan Newell, “who lost both of his legs in a roadside bomb explosion in Afghanistan,” is scheduled to appear in court December 12 on a felony charge of conspiracy and several misdemeanor charges, according to CBS’s Crimesider blog.
I’m certainly not advocating that anyone take matters into their own hands regarding Phelps, enacting a biblical sort of tit-for-tat vigilante justice filled with the taking of eyes and teeth. But what I am trying to get at is that hatred makes people crazy. Just as bullying a person can drive them to commit suicide, the villainous antagonizing of veterans and other public figures at the moment they are being laid to rest will undoubtedly continue to ignite fires in otherwise reasonable people, some of which may not be extinguishable. Why? Because hatred makes people crazy. And it makes emotionally volatile people even crazier. Especially since it’s coming from crazy people to begin with. We understand as a society that violence begets violence. So why are we allowing this type of hate speech to masquerade as free speech?
To those like my friends Brent and Lizz who would say that the message of the Westboro Baptist Church is and always should be protected by free speech, I say: I’m not so sure. Common sense tells us that there is a difference between writing an op-ed about God’s supposed opposition to gay people and a “gay war” (How is this war gay again? It’s likely that the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell repeal will be voted down today. Is it because Gaga used guns in her Alejandro video?) and having to bear witness to a stranger wearing a sign at your veteran son’s funeral that says “Thank God for Dead Soldiers.”
I’ve heard the argument, “But if we don’t let Fred Phelps say and do what he wants, gays can’t say and do what they want!” I don’t think that’s true. No one can change Fred Phelps; no one will stop him from spreading his anti-gay propaganda. But we can tell him when and where he’s allowed to hold a protest. Yes, every summer, gay pride parades float down the avenues of cities around the world, and men prance around shirtless wearing cheekless chaps. But those same men dressed the same way might be arrested for indecent exposure walking down the same street the next day. And so it should be with Phelps. Hang your signs off your church walls, have anti-gay, anti-Jew rallies if you want to. But there should be no picketing at a funeral. After all, a protest should be protesting something. You can’t protest the life of a dead person. There’s just no logic behind it. In the brief filed by 48 states and the District of Columbia in support of Snyder’s Supreme Court case, “the states argued they have a compelling interest in protecting the sanctity of funerals,” the AP reported.
Elizabeth Edwards was a public person, and as such, her funeral would likely be exempt from the type of protection being argued for by Snyder. Accordingly, I can’t help but turn my thoughts to Elizabeth Edwards’ children, Emma and Jack, not even teenagers yet, and how they’ll feel if their mother’s funeral becomes a circus. My hope is – and I feel pretty confident this will come to pass – that there will be such an enormous outpouring of love and support from fans and followers of Elizabeth that if they show up, the Westboro Baptist Church will end up looking like the insignificant fringe freak show it truly is.
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