Most folks reading this website know plenty about the Westboro Baptist Church, the organization founded by Fred Phelps to spread hatred across the land. Those who belong to the church (and most of them have surnames reading “Phelps”) have been going after everybody: Jews, gays, President Obama. Everyone is going to burn in hell, they claim, because they’re sinners supporting some evil lifestyle. Plenty of us wish they would go away, including the family of a Marine whose 2006 funeral was picketed by Westboro. But too bad: A federal appeals court just ruled their demonstrations are protected by the First Amendment. Thank god.
As despicable as Westboro is, they’ve become a veritable punchline. Their claims are so ridiculous (and their signs so catchy!; Maybe God does hate fags!) they’re actually helping the gay community brand hatred towards it as lunacy. Sure, we’d rather not have to deal with Westboro’s clan popping up at synagogues, high schools, and gay pride rallies, but if they are the opposition, we’ll gladly take it, since not many Americans want to identify themselves with their brand of crazy. (That, and Westboro helps raise cash for the gays.)
But that’s not why we’re glad to see them succeed in their court battle. Yes, it’s a terrible thing the family of Iraq vet Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder had to deal with Westboro as they were trying to bury their loved one. And we can understand what drove them to sue. It’s incredulous to think Westboro’s reason for Snyder’s death — punishment for America loving the gays — is even remotely founded in truth. But we want the right to protest and demonstrate wherever we please, too. And not as a special right, but a right for any American.
So continue branding Westboro’s followers are fanatics. THEY ARE. Just remember that they’re entitled to say horrible, repugnant things if they so choose, and we wouldn’t want anyone telling us that our message isn’t protected speech, either.
This sort of rebuttal, however, is strongly encouraged.