Freedom/Privacy

God hates the Westboro Baptist Church

Yesterday, in a move that will hopefully lead to the bankruptcy of the Westboro Baptist Church, a jury awarded Albert Snyder, the father of a dead Marine, nearly $11 million for emotional damages incurred at his son’s funeral. You see, the funeral had been picketed by members of the Westboro Baptist Church carrying signs that read “Thank God for dead soldiers” and “God hates fags,” among others. During the trial, Mr. Snyder’s laywer urged the jury to “ensure the damages were high enough to stop the church campaigning”, something that this will hopefully do. After many, many appeals and a likely Supreme Court partial reversal on First Amendment grounds.

If we’re lucky, though, the appeals process will cost the church enough to stop their protests. And there’s no reason that local governments can’t create larger buffer zones around cemeteries to protect funerals from protesters. And who knows, by the time this one hits the Supreme Court, maybe the members will have realized that speech that injures people shouldn’t be afforded the same protections as non-injurious speech. And there’s no doubt that Mr. Snyder was injured by the Phelps family, so he deserves compensation for his injuries. Nearly $11 million worth of compensation.

The world is full of small-minded, hateful people, and the Phelps’ of the Westboro Baptist Church are among the smallest and most hateful. If you’re interested in a good investigation of the family behind the church, check out the BBC’s interview of Louis Theroux, who spent three weeks living with the extended family. Also, check out Michael Moore messing with Fred Phelps, founder of the Westboro Baptist Church, on his TV show The Awful Truth.

If you’re interested in taking a more direct role against these loonies, check out The Patriot Guard Riders. They’re a group of people devoted to attending military funerals as guests of the family whose purpose is to physically block the line of sight from the funeral attendees to any and all protesters, but most specifically protesters from the Westboro Baptist Church. If you’re interested in joining, check out the website – they don’t even care if you ride a motorcycle or support the occupation of Iraq, only that you respect those who have died and their families.

22 replies »

  1. The behavior of protesters from Westboro Baptist Church is reprehensible. In terms of its assault on human dignity, it ought to be opposed.

    But … it is speech. Is it protected speech? This case ought to to the Supreme Court so we find out what the new edition of the Supremes says.

    In this country, we either have free speech … or we don’t. The Court has previously set limits. Should it set more? I hope not.

    Advocating the curtailment of speech solely because of its foul nature is, to me, equally as reprehensible as the speech itself.

  2. But Denny, there’s no curtailment of speech here. This isn’t a criminal action, there’s no prior restraint, it’s not governmental in nature, etc. There’s really nothing new here at all, merely a rather loud and noisy example of the sorts of civil actions that we’ve had before, right?

  3. Thank you for this post.

    I had heard of this family but not really taken that close a look. I did today. Crazies.

    To demonstrate at a funeral is incredibly disrespectful and wicked. I’d have tried to take her eyeballs out if that were a child of mine she was behaving so badly towards.

  4. I suppose you’re right, Sam. But every time I see what effectively amounts to a potential limit on speech, I point at it and say: “Okay, what is it really? Do we want to draw a line in the sand here?”

    For the moment, I see my protesting freedom potentially impinged.

  5. All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing. —- Edmund Burke

    This crowd has been on the Southern Poverty Law Center watchlist for a long time, same as other hate groups.

    I’m all for free speech, but hate speech is not protected under the Constitution. That’s already been settled.

    What they need to consider is their actions have consequences, such as lawsuits.

  6. The Phelps clan has been on my radar for a long time. I personally think that their family tree needs a few forks, if you know what I mean.

    Zealots like them are an affront to most Christians. Whenever I encounter a self-proclaimed Christian embarking on a mission of hate, I always ask them if that action is what Jesus would have done. Some try to argue scripture with me….which doesn’t bode very well for them. Others actually become embarrassed by their lack of understanding of what Christianity really means. Tolerance, compassion, and love for one’s enemy is one of the foundations of Christianity….in addition to faith and the acceptance of Christ.

    Jesus Christ wouldn’t tell someone to parade in front of a funeral showing “God hates Fags.” Jesus would want you to “wash their feet with your tears.” I know that the feet washing concept is dated, but back then it was a supreme symbol of compassion.

    For the record, I’m not an Evangelical…I’m a mainstream Episcopalian who manages to go to church 3 or 4 Sundays a month. We also stay active in our church because it’s very low key, beautiful, and the Saturday wine tastings are excellent.

    The Phelps may be pushing the boundaries of free speech. Not all speech is free, especially if it incites unrest, falsely mentions fire in a crowded theatre, or mentions bombs at airports. I would be honored to be able to file an amicus brief in any future cases that involved crazy people like the Phelps Family.

    They’re just plainly wrong, and most of my friends on the right agree with me and are glad that the Phelps family got their due.

    Collecting the 11 Million might be another story.

    Jeff

  7. I don’t share much theologically with the average Christian, and I have yet to find even ONE thing that I agree with the Phelps clan about. But it’s weird, because there’s a part of me that kinda wishes the whole Judgment Day motif were true, because I’d pay good money to be there when Rev. Fred’s name is not found written in the Book of Life.

    Of course, my failure to agree with you theologically doesn’t make me any less glad for Christians like you and a number of my closest friends, who do a great job proving that the nutcase fundie crowd is the exception, not the rule.

    If I said that badly, it was intended as a compliment. 🙂

  8. given the recent and recurring stories of fundies engaging in that which they hold in high holy disregard it would not surprise me if “rev.” phelps has diddled in a little (or a lot of) buggery himself. in fact, i’m fairly confident he has.

    to paraphrase an old quote (shakespeare, maybe?)….”the fair reverend doth protest too much.”

  9. The $11M judgement, the legal fees, and whatever it costs them to appeal may be enough to put them out of business. And that’s good enough.

    The SPLC has used that tactic in the past on a group in Idaho.

  10. djESNO said

    “rev.” phelps has diddled in a little (or a lot of) buggery himself. in fact, i’m fairly confident he has”

    I’ll agree with you that the guy is a creep, but you’re just plain old throwing stuff out there hoping some of it will stick. There is no evidence that he has engaged in any act of buggery. Speculation of whatever his habits might be is still merely, speculation. For all we know, Rev, Phelps might be a really nice guy who happens to have very activist streak in his fundamentalism. That being said, I have found that many of my activist friends share one common trait…excessive anger.

    Human nature being what it is, you’ll find an even distribution of destructive, anti-social, illegal, and bad behavior across the whole political spectrum. After all, we’re just human.

    Rev. Phelps and his clan should be pitied, not smeared. They’re doing enough smearing of themselves.

    Jeff

  11. A very strong case can be made that the Westboro Baptist Church is the true face of christianity. One needs look no further than the Warmonger in Chief to show how old testament christians think and live.

    What no one sees today, is any other gentrified christians disavowing anything groups like these say and do, these professional christians.

    The Founding Fathers were well aware of the threat christianity posed to society and the new nation.

    President Adams even went so far as to sign the 1797 Treaty of Tripoli proclaiming the US to be a secular nation. In Article 11, it states:
    “As the Government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquillity, of Musselmen; and as the said States never have entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mehomitan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.”

    Washington was deist.

    Jefferson wrote, “Question with boldness even the existence of a god.”

    Adams wrote, “I almost shudder at the thought of alluding to the most fatal example of the abuses of grief which the history of mankind has preserved — the Cross. Consider what calamities that engine of grief has produced!”

    Madison observed, “During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What have been its fruits? More or less in all places, pride and indolence in the Clergy, ignorance and servility in the laity; in both, superstition, bigotry and persecution.”

    Franklin observed, “If we look back into history for the character of the present sects in Christianity, we shall find few that have not in their turns been persecutors, and complainers of persecution. The primitive Christians thought persecution extremely wrong in the Pagans, but practiced it on one another. The first Protestants of the Church of England blamed persecution in the Romish church, but practiced it upon the Puritans. These found it wrong in the Bishops, but fell into the same practice themselves both here [England] and in New England.”

  12. Washington, Adams, and Madison all shared one common trait with myself. We’re all Masons. Jefferson petitioned a lodge (Federal Lodge #1) for the degree work, but was blackballed.

    The main qualification to becoming a Mason is to believe in God…along with a few other minor little things like good character, etc. One could actually make a good argument that the whole revolution was a Masonic thing because so much of it was planned in lodges throughout the colonies. Our Grand Lodge has extensive records relating to the revolution, the players, and their writings from a Masonic perspective. I got a sneak peek at some of those archived papers and was amazed at how much I didn’t know, and how ignorant I really am regarding the motives of the founding of this country.

    Saying the Westboro Baptist Church is the true face of Christianity is like saying Mohammed Atta was your typical Muslim.

    Most Christians I know are fine upstanding people. While they may lack the sharp intellect of many of the commenters on this site, they more than make up for it with their honesty, faith, politeness, fairness, and good manners.

    Jeff

  13. Masons have to believe there is a higher order to the universe, regardless of what that might be, god or no god. Masons are a dying breed because of the newer generations’ lack of interest.

    “Most Christians I know are fine upstanding people. While they may lack the sharp intellect of many of the commenters on this site, they more than make up for it with their honesty, faith, politeness, fairness, and good manners.”

    They’re also mostly passive and don’t follow their own teachings. Especially the one that say “Thou shalt not kill”. There are few if any churches doing something even as simple as what Sophie Scholl did during WWII.

  14. Comment from DomPierre

    “Masons have to believe there is a higher order to the universe, regardless of what that might be, god or no god.”

    If you look at the Masonic square and compass, there’s a G right in the middle. The G doesn’t stand for anything other than the creator. Masons do believe in God. When I was going through the vetting process when I petitioned my lodge(Sarasota Lodge #147 F&AM) for membership, the very first question asked of me was if I believed in God. He can be the God of Abraham, he could be Zeuss for that matter, but athiests are excluded from our ancient and noble craft.

    Actually, Freemasonry isn’t dying at all. In fact, we’re slowly starting to increase our brotherhood. The thing about Masonry is that we don’t advertise, nor do we invite people to join our craft. One has to ask to join, then there’s a lot of memorization of ritual, and a lot of very hard work. Nothing regarding ritual is written down ever, and is passed from mouth to ear. It took me about a year to memorize all of the Catechism to become a Master Mason…..which is the highest degree in Masonry. It will take me a lifetime to understand what it means. Aside from my wife and son, Masonry is the best thing that ever happened to me.

    Masonry is not there to rehabilitate men, it’s there to make good men better. Despite the fact that a good percentage of our elected officials in our area are fellow Masons, politics are totally off limits during Regular Lodge. You’d be surprised at the number of people who are Masons. Most of us don’t really advertise the fact….in a sense that the general public would pick up on. However, we all know who each other are.

    What church ever followed it’s own teachings 100%. After all, we’re only human.

    That being said, you do make very good points.

    Jeff

  15. I don’t know how my last comment disappeared, so I’ll try again.

    DomPierre wrote,

    “Masons have to believe there is a higher order to the universe, regardless of what that might be, god or no god.”

    Actually, that’s not entirely true. Masons do believe in God, period. When I first petitioned my lodge(Sarasota Lodge #147 F&AM), the first thing they asked during the vetting process was if I believed in God. In fact, God figures very prominently in our rituals, and if you look at our compass and square symbol, the G in the middle doesn’t stand for greed or goodness. It doesn’t matter if it is the God of Abraham or Zeus for that matter, if you’re an athiest, forget about being accepted into this most noble and ancient craft. Freemasonry has stopped it’s decline and is rebounding. Freemasonry doesn’t recruit membership, and doesn’t advertise. We just go along doing our thing. It’s tough to become a Mason. To pass the degree work takes a lot of memorization and nothing is written down, the ritual is passed from mouth to ear as it has always been done. It took me a year to become proficient in the rote memorization of the ritual, but will probably take me a lifetime to understand the meanings. The hard work to become a Mason disqualifies a lot of people who want instant gratification, which is OK with us. The purpose of Masonry is not to rehibilitate men, but to make good men better.

    There are only three degrees in Masonry, which are Entered Apprentice, Fellowcraft, and Master Mason. When you hear the term 32nd degree Mason, they are no higher in Masonry than a Master. 32nd degree is part of Scottish Rite which is a branch of Masonry.

    I agree that a lot of Christians don’t follow their teachings 100%, but how many people in this world do things 100%. We’re only humans, after all:)

    Jeff

  16. We’re saying the same thing about a god and a higher power. When I joined and was active in the Masons 25 yrs ago, all that was required was a belief in a higher power.

    And there is (or was) a 33rd degree which is the Inspector General.

    That said, Masonry may be doing ok in some areas, and in other areas the lodges have closed and been sold because membership couldn’t sustain it anymore due to lack of interest and the older membership dying out.

    As far as “thou shalt not kill”, that seems like a kind of important for anyone proclaiming to be a follower of the Prince of Peace whether it be directly or indirectly.

    Christianity like the Republican party got hijacked by zealots and warmongers and corporatists and that is the face the world sees today (instead of the ones like Riverside Church in NYC, built by JD Rockefeller Jr.).

    Who would want to be part of a culture that preaches stuff like the Left Behind series with Rambo Jesus killing everyone and everything in its path.

    It oughta be interesting when Cecil Bothwell’s documentary comes out in the next month or two about Billy Graham, titled “The Prince of War: Billy Graham’s Crusade for a Wholly Christian Empire”. Professional christians in it for the money and self-aggrandisement. Too bad christians haven’t learned anything from the Quakers & the Amish.

    If you’d like a Southern view on things, maybe take a look at Joe Bageant. He’s usually keen about his views.

  17. What lodge did you join?

    Did they give you a Masonic Bible after you got your apron lecture?

    You said,
    “Who would want to be part of a culture that preaches stuff like the Left Behind series with Rambo Jesus killing everyone and everything in its path.”

    My church doesn’t do any of that. Maybe the Evangelicals and Charismatics, but not Episcopalians.

    Jeff

  18. I wish the court would have required each member of the protestant cult to pay. Yet another example of why the word Christian should not and actually can not be aplied to everyone who wants it, least of all fudamentalist, lying, Anti-Catholic bigot protestants.

  19. —Theroux’s doing retreads?

    Maybe instead of doing the one note Harry Potter ‘decency’ pose,
    and cornering children in their bedrooms, he might, for once, take on
    the horrifying belief system of the state run, state controlled BBC —–EUGENICS.

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