Westboro Hate vs. Common Decency

Freedom of Speech

America is the land of freedom. We are so proud to be able to say those words. This great country has fought and many fine Americans have died so that we can still utter those words of freedom. So it is with a sense of sadness that I have read and now write about the misuse of our Freedom of Speech.

To merely say that we take this freedom lightly is such a misnomer, that I hesitate to even give space to the sentiment. When our Founding Fathers presented us with this God given right, we fully understood its significance; never before in the history of man had there ever been given such an allowance of freedom to a people. How we can turn this freedom into such vile filth can only be understood by those who dwell in a world of hate.

Many of you may be jumping ahead thinking how hate is used in protests against our politicians and/or their policies. It is a prevalent hatred, to be sure, but there is a certain balance to it as both the right and left are equally prolific at it. The hatred doesn’t accomplish anything; the vile talk only serves to make the speaker look petty and childish. Their vitriol is aimed more to make the daily news and hopefully sway the minds of the uninformed than it is to actually inflict injury upon another.

Marine Lance Cpl Matthew Snyder

It is not the world of political free speech that I am referring to on this day. It is the seedy underside of those who propagate hate in the name of God, specifically, the Westboro Baptist Church from Topeka, Kansas. Under the tutelage of their pastor, Fred Phelps, this church travels around the country preying on military families gaining attention from the media to spout their hatred over the airwaves, free of charge. And they get the attention, everywhere they go. Their biggest news story to date involves Marine Lance Cpl Matthew Snyder, who was killed in Iraq when his Humvee overturned in 2006.

In March 2006, days before the funeral was to take place, Mr. Phelps sent a notice to the church and to the city officials of Westminster, MD, warning them of his intent to protest at the funeral of Matthew Snyder. This notice was also provided as an invitation to the local media. Needless to say, the media showed up with their cameras rolling and Mr. Phelps’s version of hatred permeated the country via satellite.

Matthew Snyder’s father sued the Phelps and the Westboro Church in hopes of stopping these attacks on other grieving families. Although the Snyder’s initially won their case, the federal court of appeals overturned the jury’s decision, agreeing with Phelps’s claim that his freedom of speech had been violated. To add insult to injury, the court then charged the Snyder’s with over $16,500 in court fees. The Supreme Court has agreed to hear this case when they return in the fall.

ABC interview with Albert Snyder

Sun photo by Jed Lirschbaum at Matthew Snyder's funeral.
Sun photo by Jed Lirschbaum at Matthew Snyder's funeral.

Patriot Guard

Also attending this funeral was the Patriot Guard. Bikers from almost every state in the nation have made it their business to attend the funerals of America’s fallen heroes; first, to show their respect and secondly, to act as a shield against the hate spewing from the Westboro church members. The Patriot Guard started doing this in response to the actions of Westboro Church. Using their bodies, their motorcycles and their flags, the guard attempts to form a physical barrier and a noise barrier to keep the protesters from being seen or heard by the families and their guests. The Patriot Guard will show up anywhere and anytime the hate filled church members plan their attacks. Their motto is ‘Standing for those who stood for us.’ What a great group of Americans.

The Patriot Guard line the streets
The Patriot Guard line the streets

The Patriot Guard

Westboro and the Hate

It is in trying to understand the hate that I falter. This church states that, “God’s hatred is one of His holy attributes” and through these protests, Phelps is actually preaching to the entire country.

In a sense, I guess he is, as his rhetoric is beamed into our very homes whenever he chooses to ‘preach’ at a funeral. And the signs! The signs that they carry are filled with hate and hurt.

Thank God for Dead Soldiers! God Hates You! God Loves Dead Soldiers! You're going to hell!

According to Phelps, the deaths of our precious military are God’s punishment on this nation for the tolerance of homosexuality, which is subverting God’s law.

Their hatred is not limited; it includes Jews, gays, Catholics, all enablers and anyone who doesn’t agree with them. In fact, if you Google the name of their church, Westboro Baptist Church, the website you arrive at is a site called God Hates Fags.

There you will find their picketing schedule, their mission and links to other sites with such Christian names as: 'God Hates the World', 'America is Doomed', 'Priests Rape Boys', 'Anti Christ Obama' & 'Jews Killed Jesus.'

I try to reconcile this attitude with the God of love that I serve and I am unable to. And I wonder, if a man, ordained to serve God, can be so seduced by hate, what hope do the rest of have? I felt it imperative to understand this.

Oddly enough, Phelps uses Bible verses to prove his teachings of a hateful God. Almost every scripture that uses the word hate or abhor can be found in his teachings.

Yet, in my opinion, in every case, he missed the understanding. One of the main verses used by the haters is Proverbs 6:16, where Solomon states that “There are six things that the Lord hates, Yes, seven which are an abomination to Him.”

His preaching doesn’t gel with the God I have come to know. It doesn’t mesh with the God of love that the Bible refers to.

For God so Loved the World

How can the God of creation, who gave His only Son out of love, now be this monster who hates us? And who in their right mind would want to love and serve a God like that anyway? If Phelps is really attempting to serve God, can he not see that God is love? Can he not feel that love? Doesn’t the Bible teach us that God so loved the world? The word love shows up three times as many times as the word hate does in the Bible. That tells me that the emphasis should be on the love and not the hate.

If Mr. Phelps lives with this much hate; it is no wonder he doesn’t realize that the trauma that he causes. He is blinded by his hatred. I contend that if he taught about the love of God instead,  he would be able to show compassion for those for have lost a loved one instead of peddling his hatred.

God is Love
God is Love

For a man who can cite any verse at his discretion, Phelps doesn’t seem to get the meaning of the verse at all.  In this day and age, anyone with a computer can look up the word ‘hate’ found in Psalms and Proverbs to find out what the root word means.  And in this case, it does mean hate, but used in context to portray an enemy or foe.  So, yes, while we are yet sinners, God can view us as an adversary. We certainly view Him that way at times.

If we remember that wickedness can not bear the presence of God and the other way around, this enemy analogy makes perfect sense. The verse in Romans can also be defined as Jacob was found pleasing while Esau was less loved.  Mr. Phelps has decided on a pathway of hatred and has taken that hatred to a whole new level. He is uses the platform of fallen heroes to further his own agenda.  And we have let him.  We have given him the platform where has thrived at it.

First Amendment

I understand godly men wanting this country to return to the Word of God for guidance, but to purposefully commit such atrocities against a grieving family goes far beyond righteous justification. When the Supreme Court hears this case, many will feel as though the court will be deciding the fate of our First Amendment. They will side with the church stating that Free Speech trumps everything.

It would behoove us all to remember that the Supreme Court has previously restricted protests at abortion clinics under the Tort of Outrage. The Tort of Outrage contends that speech designed for “intentional infliction of emotional distress” (IIED) is not covered by the First Amendment. The Second Restatement of Torts (1965) defines IIED as conduct "so outrageous in character, and so extreme in degree, as to go beyond all possible bounds of decency, and to be regarded as atrocious, and utterly intolerable in a civilized community."

The protesters at the clinic went forward with the intent to deliver emotional distress.  So did Mr. Phelps and his ilk. How can the funeral and burial of an American soldier be any less than an abortion clinic? And if this type of protest is not considered intentional infliction of emotional distress, I can not comprehend what would.

Courts don’t like this tort much and require the injury to be more than simply malicious. It is not enough for them to be called outrageous. They contend that the conduct must be so despicable to be regarded as atrocious and utterly intolerable to avoid having the court hear every insult thrown out there.

A funeral is a solemn affair.  They are private and very often painful.  Loved ones are often vulnerable at this time.  We give extra attention to the bereaved and rightly so. To compare the evil that Phelps spews to the rights of all Americans to speak out against unfair policies by those in charge is wrong.

This is Phelps at Matthew Snyder's funeral.
This is Phelps at Matthew Snyder's funeral.

Does Phelps have a right to say these things? Sure, he does. But let him do from more than 30 feet away. Phelps does not have the right to target and intrude on the moment that the Snyder family has set aside to honor their son with loved ones. He should not be granted the right to invade the privacy of another American at a time when the heavy burden of grief begs for a measure of privacy. The funeral of your son or daughter is devastating enough without adding Phelps and his hate. Why do we allow this to continue? How do we justify this? I love freedom and would grant Phelps the right to protest anything he chooses. Is his right to free speech greater than the Snyder’s family to grieve and bury their son? Common decency should dictate that Phelps not intrude here.

There is no law that grants the right of a bully to push his views on the country at the expense of another. Mr. Phelps is unable to garner the attention he craves for his hateful teachings on his own, so he uses the high profile funerals of our soldiers to gain the audience he seeks. Without the outrageousness of his actions at a private funeral, without the media playing right into his hands, no one would pay any attention to him. He would lose his bully pulpit. Who wants to listen to crap like that anyway?

It is our fault. We have allowed him to continue and have given him all the free publicity he wants. He can preach his hate and hurt our families while we sit glued to the news, watching it all, saying, isn’t that horrible? Now, it is time to make him stop. It matters not whether you agree with his preaching or not. What he is doing to Americans who have lost a son or daughter on behalf of our country is not right. They deserve better from us. We should stand with the Snyder family for common decency. We, as individuals, may not be able to petition the court on Matthew Snyder’s behalf but we can show our support of the Snyder family.

Matthew Snyder - Website

Declaration of Support at Veterans of Foreign Wars

Support the Snyder family on FaceBook.

From the Weekly Standard - 48 states have filed a brief supporting Mr. Snyder, arguing that most states have passed laws protecting the sanctity of funerals and restricting funeral picketing, and that these laws are constitutional for three reasons.

First, funerals should be given the sort of privacy protections that the Supreme Court has ruled exist in a home.

Second, funeral attendees should be considered a "captive audience" within the realm of the First Amendment and therefore cannot choose to ignore or get away from offending speech.

Third, the brief argues that the Supreme Court and lower courts have recognized that "targeted picketing...is a particularly intrusive and harassing form of speech." The concurrent argument concerns existing state tort laws, which the brief says protect the "privacy and emotional health of grieving families."

Should the Supreme Court rule in favor of:

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Comments 36 comments

TinaMarieTad profile image

TinaMarieTad 6 years ago from Michigan

Joni~ Once again a very profound Hub. I cannot beleive that such hatred can be justified but do understand Phelps Freedom of Speech. This is just another example of extreme beliefs and misinterpretation of God's word. My prayers go to the grieving families that have to suffer at the hands of the likes of Phelps and his followers. I think targeted picketing is harrassment and should be dealt with legally as such. God Bless Our Troops!

Joni Douglas profile image

Joni Douglas 6 years ago Author

Thank you Tina, Happy to see you are my first comment.

I agree with your statement. 'I think targeted picketing is harassment and should be dealt with legally as such.'

And you are right about the extreme nature of his teachings. I say by law he has a right to protest, but he doesn't' have a right to injure the family. He should be made to keep his distance. Thanks for your comments.

dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

Such actions on the part of those who claim to be Christian is hard to understand. Religion and the Bible are easy to misinterpret, if one does noes not look at the Bible as a whole and just take bits and pieces out of it. that's ho fanatics are born. These protesters appear to be fanatics who have one issue i.e., sexual morality. Also they are unfair to a soldier who has no oart in policy matters.

Joni Douglas profile image

Joni Douglas 6 years ago Author

Hello dahoglund. I agree with you. But I also want to point to our responsibility here, we the people who watch this and do nothing and the media who spotlight it every chance they get for ratings without consideration of decency. Thank you for your comments.

Rafini profile image

Rafini 6 years ago from Somewhere I can't get away from

What is it that keeps people coming back, time after time, to a man who manipulates the media into believing he is only there for the right to Freedom of Speech? It disgusts me.

My argument for the families who have been forced to endure this public humiliation through accepted invitations to the media is this:

Congress shall make no law prohibiting the free exercise of the right of the people peaceably to assemble.

This 'Church' may have the right to free speech, the same as any other American, but they do not have the 'right' to interfere with a government endorsed God-given right.

Joni Douglas profile image

Joni Douglas 6 years ago Author

Thank you for your comments Rafini. There is a sanctity that we allow at funerals that needs to be remembered. Let them protest a few blocks away.

profile image

HSchneider 6 years ago from Parsippany, New Jersey

Hi Joni. I agree that the court should come down on the side of the Snyder family. I believe they should rule on privacy grounds. I am reluctant to restrict free speech in almost any instance but this is an outrage and a clear violation for this and other grieving families. Mr. Phelps is a zealot who will twist the writings of the bible in any way he can to prove his bigotry and hatred. I was taught that the bible comes down to one word "Love". He finds only hate in those words. Let him spew this hatred in the public square like everyone else but not at private funerals where families are dealing with their greatest loss.

Joni Douglas profile image

Joni Douglas 6 years ago Author

Very well put HSchneider. His right to protest should not impinge on the rights of others. I don't get the hate. Who in their right mind would want to live with that much hate in their lives? It is toxic and warps the mind.

Thank you for stopping by and commenting.

reddog1027 profile image

reddog1027 6 years ago from Atlanta, GA

When hate groups use God and the Bible to further their causes I say a prayer for them. What a shock when they reach the gates of heaven and St. Pete refuses to let them in.

sheila b. profile image

sheila b. 6 years ago

I hadn't known about the Patriot Guard. How wonderful of them to do what they do. As for Westboro, they looked for a way to get publicity and chose their vile hate road. Why? Money, money, money. They won't last much longer, they'll eat eachother alive.

Joni Douglas profile image

Joni Douglas 6 years ago Author

reddog, thank you for your comments. Not understanding what they hope to gain by such hate speech, all we can do is pray for them.

Joni Douglas profile image

Joni Douglas 6 years ago Author

sheila, the Patriot Guard are wonderful. Some are vets, some are Christians, some are just patriotic bikers but all are repulsed by the actions of Westboro at these funerals. Thank you so much for stopping by and commenting.

James A Watkins profile image

James A Watkins 6 years ago from Chicago

Thank you for a fabulous article. I have heard about this case and I find the actions of this group to be horrendous. Surely, the Supreme Court will rule for the Snyder Family. These folks give Christianity a bad name. Repulsive.

Joni Douglas profile image

Joni Douglas 6 years ago Author

Hi James, thanks for your comments. If common sense rules the day, the court will side with the Snyder family. But there are powerful forces out there who feel that the court may use this case to place restrictions on Freedom of Speech. Makes it worth watching.

misterdiggs profile image

misterdiggs 6 years ago from Limbo

Can you say White Christian Terrorist?

Joni Douglas profile image

Joni Douglas 6 years ago Author

misterdiggs, How about we just call him a terrorist? Why play into his illusion of being a Christian? Thanks for stopping by.

misterdiggs profile image

misterdiggs 6 years ago from Limbo

My point is that Americans tend to be real big on generalizations and name calling. You know "islamo-fascism."

"Radical middle east terrorist"...My point is that white Christians in general tend to be no different than the so-called radical muslims they try so hard to defame.

Just saying terrorists does not accurately describe what and who these people generally are. They are Caucasian-Christian Terrorist...."Christiano-Caucasoid Terrorist"

The point needs to be made and made again until we get an accurate profile of who the terrorist in America are. White-Christian-Gun owners. Who generally live in middle or southern America.

Joni Douglas profile image

Joni Douglas 6 years ago Author

misterdiggs, I believe that is is wrong to completely generalize a whole religion because of a minority in their midst.

Being white, a Christian, a gun owner, and living in the midwest, I believe you have just insulted me.

MY point is..... this Phelps is not a true Christian. He is using the term to further his agenda. He is defaming other Christians not muslims.

Please go play in another sandbox.

JamaGenee profile image

JamaGenee 6 years ago from Central Oklahoma

A bit of background on the Phelps family. The patriarch, Fred Phelps, was an attorney for decades, until he was disbarred. Several of his now-middle-aged "children" also have law degrees, but not sure how many still actively practice.

The "church" has only a handful of members who aren't Fred's children, grandchildren or spouses of same. Some have jobs, for the rest spreading Fred's hate and filth IS their job.

In the 1980s and '90s, the family's focus was infiltrating Kansas politics, to the point of trying to get one of the sons elected president of a Democratic Women's organization after term limits prevented a sister from running again. Other Phelps children were eased out of similar organizations. Fred then ran for governor, but didn't make it past the primary. (Surprise...)

After being run off the political stage, the "God hates ---" picketing began, mostly on the corner of a busy Topeka intersection, in front of a family-oriented video store, or anywhere else large numbers of people would see their filthy signs. Originally they targeted gays, ironically resulting in Topeka's evolution into one of the most gay-tolerant cities in the nation. After it became apparent gay-bashing no longer had the shock value it once did, PhelpsCo switched to disrupting soldiers' funerals.

WBC is a church in name only and the Phelpses are experts on **every** nuance and loophole in Free Speech laws. The cause de jour doesn't matter, only that they raise the blood pressure of onlookers and get the media attention they crave and have become addicted to.

Here's hoping the Supreme Court has the good sense and moral fortitude to rule against this sick bunch, but don't hold your breath.

Joni Douglas profile image

Joni Douglas 6 years ago Author

Thanks, JamaGenee. One of the sons broke away from the family is now an avowed atheist without anything nice to say about the other members of the family.

You are right, attention is what they seek and boy aren't they going to love it when they are in the headlines again.

As the October session starts, I imagine we will hear more about this. Public opinion and common sense may carry a lot more weight than we realize.

misterdiggs profile image

misterdiggs 6 years ago from Limbo

I will certainly go and play in another sand box.

Bigotry, racism and generalizations are only true when White-Christian Middle Americans and Southerners spew them.

JamaGenee profile image

JamaGenee 6 years ago from Central Oklahoma

A daughter also broke away and legally changed her last name. Yes, won't they just love the attention a Supreme Court case will garner. What a sick bunch.

Joni Douglas profile image

Joni Douglas 6 years ago Author

Sick may be putting it lightly. :)

carolina muscle profile image

carolina muscle 6 years ago from Charlotte, North Carolina

That group is certainly out there... I can't believe a Christian minister could preach such hatred and defend it using the New Testament !!!

Joni Douglas profile image

Joni Douglas 6 years ago Author

carolina muscle, I think it is safe to say that Phelps is not the only preacher man out there, using the Word of God for his own financial benefit.

Phelps has gained almost a celebrity status with his shenanigans. This will grow even larger when the media once again shines their stoplight on his actions this fall.

Thank you very much for your comments.

Christopher Floyd profile image

Christopher Floyd 6 years ago from Kansas, Oklahoma, and Louisiana.

I grew up a part of a biker family in Topeka. The majority of Topeka hates these idiots. Thank you for writing this. The more bad press they get, the better.

Joni Douglas profile image

Joni Douglas 6 years ago Author

I hope they only get bad press. Otherwise, it is akin to making them celebrities.

Being from the area, you probably know about the Patriot Guard as well. Even here in Michigan we have the Guard.

Thank you for stopping by and for your comments.

Kaie Arwen profile image

Kaie Arwen 6 years ago

Great article............ this group is for lack of a better word "disgusting."


Joni Douglas profile image

Joni Douglas 6 years ago Author

Thank you Kaie, for your kind words and for reading my hub. You are so right, this group is disgusting. We are going to hear a lot more about them when the court reopens this fall.

RunAbstract profile image

RunAbstract 6 years ago from USA

I find it bazzar that a "preacher" would go to such lenghts to persecute a soilder's family. And yes, we do all thave the freedom of speech, but isn't there somekind of harrassment situation happening here?

I agree with the idiot preacher in that, yes, I believe God judges homosexuals. But the idiot preacher is not God, and seems to be as misguided as he can possibly be.

Hitler was also misguided. And a whole nation stood with him as he tried desperately to wipe out the entire Jewish race. So I have to wonder with awe, disgust, and fear at the FOLLOWERS of this disturbed individual who so cruely go along with the emotional torment inflicted upon the families of these fallen soilders.

With there being a silver lining to each cloud, these bikers are that silver lining. The compassion, and proctection they show for the deep abiding sadness of these families goes beyond the ordainary, and is to be commended.

This was a very well written and illustrated article. I am glad you have brought this situation to the attention of your readers.

Please keep up the good work.

RunAbstract profile image

RunAbstract 6 years ago from USA

Joni, sorry to take a double dip in the comment capsule, but I just went up and read other comments, and I am compelled to respond to misterdiggs.

misterdiggs... What kind of nut tree did you fall off of? Your way of thinking is not much different than the idiot preacher's! In that you have set yourself as God and judge! So I must personally classify you with the likes of Hitler too.

I personally must consider YOU as a terrorist, at least a written terrorist, in that you comdemn an entire body of people for their beliefs and their race! Beliefs you most probably have very little true knowledge of.

I just MIGHT be able to understand this kind of idiot ranting were it directed toward the KKK, for example. But to say all WHITE CHRISTIANS are terrorist is so far beyond a sane comment that I enthusiastically enourage you to SEEK HELP. Both mentally, and spiritually.

Joni Douglas profile image

Joni Douglas 6 years ago Author

I sure thank you for stopping by RunAbstract and leaving such great comments. As you say, Phelps is most misguided. Despite any feelings on homosexuality, Phelps is not the judge of anyone, and to pronounce any kind of a sentence to the soldier who just died for his country is way over the boundary.

Phelp's freedom of speech is not threatened if ordered to move even a mile away. He will lose interest soon then. His audience will be gone and that is what he is fighting for................

The Attention! Sort of like our friend here, Mr Diggs.

If we stop giving them a megaphone with a national spotlight, nobody will listen, eventually they'll shut up & go away.

ezpikins profile image

ezpikins 6 years ago from Texas

First I'd like to say well written article. Next I'd like to add that I'm disgusted in the Westboro Baptist Church. Its so difficult to maintain ones composure and respect in the 1st amendment when it gives these people the right to do something like this but our rights and freedoms are important to what America stands for and I respect that. That being said I'm all for a amendment voted on by all Americans to stop this particular harassment of the families of the dead soldiers.

George Washington himself said that the Constitution was a set of laws that may need Amending from time to time as the world changed but he also said let the people of America, all of them do it and not government. (not a direct quote) But this is important because it allows us to stop this kind of hate, a terrible kind of hate, no matter from whom or which group of people, by saying so in one voice as Americans.

Joni Douglas profile image

Joni Douglas 6 years ago Author

You said it expikins. The freedom of speech that this so-called preacher man falls back on is NOT the freedom that our forefathers intended for us all to enjoy. He is a sick and perverted man and should not be allowed anywhere near grieving families. Thank you for stopping by and reading this. I appreciate your comments.

brit8741 profile image

brit8741 6 years ago from Texas

Carolina Muscle, I promise you Fred Phelps is NOT a Christian preacher, regardless of what he says.

This family is absolutely sick. Twisting God's word around and attacking people with verses taken completely out of context is one is the most sickening things people can do, especially in this manner. At least God says, "For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you." He's going to judge the WBC just like they judge gays. And Jews. And soldiers. And Australia. And the UK. And everyone else on this planet.

Joni Douglas profile image

Joni Douglas 6 years ago Author

So true brit8741. Unfortunately, Christianity can and will be judged by those around the world by the actions of this gang. To me, their actions are despicable and there is no godliness in them. That is not how God would want anyone to promote His message. The actions taken by this church gang is not about God at all; it is all about self promotion.

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