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
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
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.
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.
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.
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."