Girlfight! – In Which We Debate Westboro’s Right to Picket Funerals

The Supreme Court recently ruled that everyone’s favorite God Warriors, the Westboro Baptist Church, are allowed to continue picketing funerals, as it is within their right to free speech under the 1st Amendment. This is obviously a complicated topic – Westboro Baptist Church can’t exactly be deemed the most appropriate group of people. There are tons of religious zealots, after all, who succeed in spreading a message demonizing homosexuality who are not a bunch of bored adults in Topeka, Kansas. And there are also a lot of religious zealots who manage to do it without inciting violence, hate, and shame in the lives of gay people.

So as it stands, the current frame is this one: do we stand for free speech at all costs or do we limit it to protect lives? This is where the Carmen and Carolyn not-showdown will begin. We’re friends, after all, but we’re going to give you guys a little bit of both sides. We framed it like a girlfight to make it more interesting, though.

So first: let’s lay the groundwork. The Westboro Baptist Church has been picketing the funerals of dead U.S. soldiers since forever ago, claiming that all soldiers deserve to die because they are fighting to protect the rights of homosexual people. This is weird, though, because they only picket the funerals of gay soldiers.

Recently, the Westboro Baptist Church engaged in other hijinks that are mostly acts of attention-whoring, including their faux hack by Anonymous. The church pretended to have received a threat from Anonymous but didn’t actually, and when they pushed them too far, were owned while in an on-air interview by a member of Anonymous. The video here will tell you all about that:

The church has gained notoriety for its antics and its really straightforward language. (Perhaps the best example is godhatesfags.com, and the fact that GOD HATES FAGS is emblazoned on every poster these people give to their small children at protests). But the issue of picketing funerals was seen as taking it to far, and got WBC taken to the courts. I’m going to let the NY Times take it from here:

The case decided Wednesday arose from a protest at the funeral of a Marine who had died in Iraq, Lance Cpl. Matthew A. Snyder. As they had at hundreds of other funerals, members of the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan., appeared with signs bearing messages like “America is Doomed” and “God Hates Fags.” …

The father of the fallen Marine, Albert Snyder, sued the protesters for, among other things, the intentional infliction of emotional distress, and won a substantial jury award that was later overturned by an appeals court.

Chief Justice Roberts wrote that two primary factors required a ruling in favor of the church. First, he said, its speech was on matters of public concern. While the messages on the signs carried by its members “may fall short of refined social or political commentary,” he wrote, “the issues they highlight — the political and moral conduct of the United States and its citizens, the fate of our nation, homosexuality in the military and scandals involving the Catholic clergy — are matters of public import.”

Second, the members of the church “had the right to be where they were.” They were picketing on a public street 1,000 feet from the site of the funeral; they complied with the law and with instructions from the police, and they protested quietly and without violence.

So here it goes.

This is what an extremist's family looks like.

Round One: Carolyn for Free Speech
Here’s the thing. The minute you start limiting any kind of speech, you start limiting democracy. The slippery slope argument may be a logical fallacy but there’s a reason that the First Amendment is, you know, first, and that’s because it’s just that important. I agree that protesting a funeral is a horrible way to cause someone emotional pain, and that the Westboro Baptist Church is a pile of toolbags. However, freedom of speech is the freedom to offend. This includes people who arguably deserve to be offended, such as homophobes and racists and sexists and members of the WBC. But it also includes everyone else.

The Supreme Court made a nearly unanimous ruling to uphold the First Amendment. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote,

“Speech is powerful. It can stir people to action, move them to tears of both joy and sorrow, and — as it did here — inflict great pain. On the facts before us, we cannot react to that pain by punishing the speaker.”

It’s also worth noting that while protesting a funeral may not be the best means of self-expression, at least it gives everyone an excellent opportunity to see just how misguided the WBC really is. Statements by WBC supporters, such as Margie Phelps, a lawyer and daughter of the founder, suggesting that God should get credit for the decision because “he has a message for this nation and from the Pentagon on down you’re not going to be able to fight it,” should emphasize that fact.

I am not defending the WBC, because they are absolutely vile, for 80 billion reasons. I am simply defending their right to say what they want, when and where and how they want it, regardless of who it offends. And my right to call them assholes for it.

Round Two: Carmen for Not Being Jerks

Okay, so maybe it would be unfair for me to go into this without starting with a disclaimer: I have had the free speech v. hate speech debate before, and I have no tolerance for it. Last year, a columnist at my school’s paper claimed date rape was “an incoherent concept” and triggered countless survivors of sexual violence with his hateful words, all of which were a moot point – because date rape is real, and because nothing he wrote would ever change that.

That being said, I understand the importance of dissent. I dissent everyday, and I consider acts of protest, and even writing, effective ways to do that. But I think there is an important distinction between free speech and the free speech we really have here. For example, it is illegal in the United States to scream “fire!” in a public place unless it is, indeed, a fire. It’s considered wrong, and with good reason – it threatens the safety of people in that space. For reference, here is a Wikipedia article on “shouting fire! in a crowded theatre.”

There is no more effective argument for shutting up the WBC at funerals than that one. A funeral is a space where family members, friends, and colleagues gather at their most vulnerable to say goodbye to a loved one. It is not the appropriate space to make them feel targeted and, potentially, unsafe. The same can be said for WBC protestors at high schools and colleges. These are spaces where people should not be exposed to the kinds of actions WBC takes.

The reason this is true is because WBC is a threat to the safety, emotional and physical, of real people – and not just dead ones, or their family members. What WBC has is not “a broad message about war.” What WBC has is a pile of signs filled with hate speech and the idea that gay people deserve to die. These things create violence – and therefore are not appropriate in spaces where people should be safe or protected.

Is everyone diggin’ this, does it make sense? I mean look, there are limits on American free speech, even if you don’t want to admit it. Editors and journalists limit free speech, and it is within their right. Members of the government exercise limited free speech. And violence, and inciting violence, is reprimanded and looked down on for groups like the KKK. So why is WBC any different?

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Carmen spent six years at Autostraddle, ultimately serving as Straddleverse Director, Feminism Editor and Social Media Co-Director. She is now the Consulting Digital Editor at Ms. and writes regularly for DAME, the Women’s Media Center, the National Women’s History Museum and other prominent feminist platforms; her work has also been published in print and online by outlets like BuzzFeed, Bitch, Bust, CityLab, ElixHER, Feministing, Feminist Formations, GirlBoss, GrokNation, MEL, Mic and SIGNS, and she is a co-founder of Argot Magazine. You can find Carmen on Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr or in the drive-thru line at the nearest In-N-Out.

Carmen has written 921 articles for us.

67 Comments

  1. Doesn’t the right to free speech stop where hate crimes begin? at least in terms of the ‘at whom and when and where’ one spews such beliefs? I would say the same to someone with whom I politically agree who would behave so malevolently. To teach and preach hate as a family/religious value is a serious illness.

  2. I don’t really think it’s accurate to say that “editors and journalists limit free speech.” The right to free speech doesn’t require anyone to publish what you have to say, or immunize you from the consequences of your words; I don’t think anyone would seriously argue that.

    Also, I’m not clear in exactly what sense WBC’s crap is endangering lives. Yes, it’s totally upsetting and awful and despicable . . . but I think the best way to fight hateful speech is not with silence, it’s with our own reasonable and compassionate speech and action.

    Censorship can end up bestowing a sort of legitimacy on the censored. Better to let the haters hate and make themselves look ridiculous. Let ’em talk till they pass out. We know they will.

    • i don’t really know if wbc’s actions can be brushed off as “haters hating.” they’re not gossiping about gay people at dinner parties, they’re telling the world god hates them and that they should hate them, too.

      • Did I sound as though I was trivializing the situation? I didn’t mean to. I meant “hate” with all the elemental force of that word — that irrational, poisonous thing that twists itself in knots to avoid letting you see inside of it, spasms in terror at the threat of acquiring any type of self-knowledge. It is actual and awful and still I think we are obliged to let it speak its piece. We have a big job to do here but I don’t think censorship is the best tool for it.

    • “The right to free speech doesn’t require anyone to publish what you have to say, or immunize you from the consequences of your words; I don’t think anyone would seriously argue that.”

      Actually, I’ve seen many an Internet troll try to do exactly that when their comments don’t get published on someone else’s blog.

    • Not only that, but from my understanding of the First Amendment, it’s referring to the government *creating laws* that infringe upon the freedom of speech. Last I checked, that did not include the editorials page of the New York Times. Now, if the federal government passed a law saying what the New York Times can and cannot publish? Completely different story.

      Disclaimer: my understanding of US constitutional law comes from my high school government class and listening to my law student brother rant.

  3. Despite the fact that they’re terrible, they definitely have the right to protest funerals. But they have to abide by laws that dictate to a proper distance and volume in order to avoid harassing the funeral-goers, trespassing or disturbing the peace.

    The phrase “peaceful protest” correlates with the manner in which you conduct yourself, not the content of your message. Freedom of speech is the right of every citizen, even the hateful, nasty ones.

    • ^ this. I think I read 40 odd states have laws in place specifically to restrict funeral protests and the WBC is careful to follow the letter of the law.

      I liked Cynthia Tucker’s “Lunatics have rights, too” blog post http://bit.ly/i0hfKq “Seldom do we reflect on the flip side of that great [First Amendment] liberty: the protections extended to the loony and the hateful to parade about in public saying vicious and evil things. It’s a lot harder to embrace that cherished freedom when it is misused by the malicious zealots of Westboro Baptist Church.”

      Since there are still too many people in the US who consider queers protesting for equal rights every bit as vile and affronting as I consider the WBC I have to side with this decision.

      • While the article you linked to may be insightful, I have to point out that “lunatic” does not equal “hateful,” “vicious,” or “evil.” The WBC is not a group of mentally ill people. They are systematically following the letter of the law because they *understand* exactly what they’re doing. Calling them lunatics (1) makes it easier to write them off instead of understanding that they’re very self-consciously aware of the hate they’re spreading and (2) further demonizes those with mental illnesses. Neither of these is a good thing. I really wish people (not you specifically; in general) would think more deeply about their language.

        • You’re right, of course, about the carelessness of the language. I completely agree that it’s not ok to demonize mentally ill people.

          I disagree with your assumption that the WBC is not a group of mentally ill people. Behaving with cunning and discipline does not preclude mental illness. Many people with mental illness can be very high functioning (including a surprising number of people we interact with every day).

          My understanding is that the WBC are systematically following the letter of the law because the daughter and spokeswoman is a lawyer. With all due respect to all the legal people here, I don’t think graduating law school is a reliable indicator of mental health.

          I’m not even sure the WBC is aware that they’re spreading hate. Everything I’ve read says they believe they are spreading the word and will of their god.

          Personally I always assumed they had to be mentally ill to cultivate hostility and thrive on negative attention the way they do. But I have no medical training.

  4. So I’m gay (obvs) and my little brother’s a US service member. Those seem to be their favorite groups to target. I loathe EVERYTHING about these people. That said…

    I agree with Carolyn. Completely. If it were nice speech, it wouldn’t hardly need protected. So long as they’re crossing their T’s, dotting their I’s and staying 1,000 feet away like they’re supposed to I believe in their right to say things that piss me the fuck off. I feel the same way about people who burn flags, or even books for that matter. I think what they’re doing is awful. I just think they’ve got the right to do it.

  5. I’m curious, would the Supreme Court have ruled the same way if the WBC carried signs that said “God Hates Niggers” or “Thank God For Dead Kikes?” I understand that they have the right to peacefully protest but I think the fact that their signs contain gay slurs should constitute profanity, or slander or something.

    • Profanity and vulgarity are not illegal. And the protesters aren’t really slandering anyone either (except maybe god). I totally agree with how much this sucks. But they are not inciting violence and are not endangering anyone.
      If the court had ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, there is little doubt in my mind that our community would have been targeted and attempts would have been made silence us. No matter how terrible the sentiment, the views and speech of groups in the minority must be protected, as the speech is lawful.

    • yup this. i was agreeing with the wbc’s right to free (hate) speech until i tried to imagine a religious group picketing a funeral for someone from any other minority. probably wouldn’t be tolerated, right? is the line between free speech and inciting violence just thinner when it comes to gay people?

    • The courts have ruled in favor of Neo-Nazis and white supremacists in the past. This absolutely isn’t about them thinking one kind of hate is not as bad as another. It’s because the First Amendment applies to everyone, including assholes.

      • Ah okay, thanks for clarifying that! Still, I think there would be greater public outcry if the WBC more openly broadcast their antisemitism (all the protests that have been near me were for antisemitic reasons, they just carried more signs with gay slurs). But I guess it’s fair that they get the same legal treatment as Neo-Nazis.

  6. there are limits to free speech. this includes shouting fire when there isnt and violating public decency, including slandering. i do not believe it should be considered decent to protest at a funeral. however, its hard to make a ruling on what exactly is publically decent. perhaps if their signs contained racial slurs it would be considered inappropriate.

    • Whether something is decent or inappropriate has nothing to do with whether it is constitutionally protected speech. Hate speech is protected speech, for it to be unconstitutional it basically has to incite an immediate and physically violent reaction in the average person or be considered a serious declaration of intent to inflict bodily harm by the average person

  7. Does anything know what, if anything, is being said about a possible time, place and manner restriction?

    It is possible to make WBC knock off the antics if the court can find that their picketing is disruptive in time place or manner. For example, you cannot picket and hold loud parades in the dead of night because people sleep at night and it is disruptive to people.

    Like if they can prove that the protests interfere with the families ability to grieve and disrupt the community at large.

    ((sorry for my prelaw nerd out))

    If anything, these actions shed light on the fact that WBC is a group of American hating Dumb-dumbs. I have friends who are not cool with LGBTQ’s AND find WBC totally awful because they are picketing the funerals of the dead servicemen. One friend said “They are Americans and soldiers before they are gay” Which is totally an odd statement to make, but it shows that people who are totes ignorant about LGBTQ stuff and would never ever discuss the topic with me because of the ick factor are willing to have a conversation about the rights of people who’s definition includes more than their gayness.

    My other thought on this is to rent a helicopter and drop a giant rainbow flag over the protesters. It could be like a sign from God.

  8. My honest opinion is that, in way, WBC helps the gay movement by showing how disgusting and weird hating gay people is. You look at WBC’s behavior and you instinctively want to move the opposite way of wherever they stand. WBC has put Fox News in a position to defend gay people.

    As for the constitutionality, I don’t know that they are doing anything that is worthy of limiting their free speech rights. You can’t yell fire in a crowded theater, but you can tell someone you think they are going to hell. I believe that within the constitution, they probably have the right. So does this mean the laws all those states hastily passed are unconstitutional? Or can they still limit them by 300 feet or whatever? I need to read more about this…

    • I agree… But they specifically do stuff that generates an emotional response that’s hard to ignore. Do they protest funerals because they think it really changes people’s mind about gay people? I doubt it. They know it’s deeply offensive, it garners attention and if there’s anytime people are going to be bothered and want to take on WBC, it’s when a family is grieving the loss of a loved one. WBC specifically does things that are hard to ignore because that’s their whole MO. When they were going to protest the funeral of that little girl who died in the Tucson assassination attempt, every knew that that’s just what WBC does and they are freaks, but they still felt it was worth making a stink over and counter-protesting. So yeah, we probably should stop paying attention to them, but it’s hard to when they are hurting people. And the constitutional questions are hard to ignore. Lets face it, lots (definitely not all, or even most, but lots) of Supreme Court cases were brought on by assholes. For a recent example, Citizens United anyone? But they have a major effect on the legal system of this country. So, this court decision is sort of important, despite the possibility that WBC will be the only group ever hateful enough to use these tactics.

      • the WBC protests funerals because they say the mourners are idolizing the dead. they are also trying to spread their hateful message about gay people and that America is doomed, but the worshiping of idols part is often overlooked.

        i will not link to the reference, but i got this info when, as a queer woman just beginning to accept herself, i heard of these people and visited their website to “learn” more about them and try to “understand,” neither of which is possible, in my opinion. that site was a dark and hellish place.

        “DON’T DO IT. IT’S NOT FUN”

  9. The first amendment, gives a person or a group the right to “peacefully assemble and to peacefully protest”, it does not give anyone the right to assemble under incendiary slogans that promote the death of anyone. Figuratively, screaming fire in a crowded theater is not the correct metaphor, it is (falsely) screaming fire in a theatre that has the potential of resulting in a riot and endangering the lives of people in that hypothetical theater.

    For instance should a person who is a racist be allowed to hold a sigh that says ” I hate N..gers” or ” God wants homosexuals dead”? How about a Jew hater holding a sign that reads ” God is happy when a Jew is killed”, or a black racist with a sign that reads,” God wants all whites dead”?

    Does any of that type of language fall under “peaceful assembly” when it is extremely incendiary,the question to me is does a provocateur of violence have the right to freedom of assembly and freedom to protest when the goal of that provocateur is to create violence and anger?

  10. small town texas here, when we get have a military funeral we enlist the help of BACA (bikers against child abuse) to stand around and look intimidating. usually the sight of at least ten burly bikers is enough to drive them away. WBC can’t back up their talk, nor can any other group protesting funerals. I honestly believe funerals should be sacred. There are a ton of rules that people don’t know about when it comes to freedom of speech (things like you have to schedule protests, can’t use speech designed to incite panic (yelling fire in a crowded theatre) et cetera. (according to my ap gov teacher, at least) I think that funerals should be added to that.

  11. Freedom of speech is freedom of speech. End of story. Yes, what they are saying is legitimately fucked up, but they think what is said at a gay rights event is just as fucked up. It ISN’T, and they are CRAZY, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have the right to be total fucking assholes if that’s what they choose.

  12. One time I had this boss, who told me, “Little Krissy, the harder thing to do is almost always the right thing to do,” (NO she was not talking about dicks). This makes me think that, even though I agree with Carmen about Not Being Jerks, maybe Westboro should be allowed to do what they are doing.
    It is really, really hard to defend what they are doing, so maybe we should.

  13. Whenever there is a free speech discussion/debate I always come back to this quote from the movie The American President:

    “You want free speech? Let’s see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who’s standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours.

    You want to claim this land as the land of the free? Then the symbol of your country can’t just be a flag; the symbol also has to be one of its citizens exercising his right to burn that flag in protest. Show me that, defend that, celebrate that in your classrooms. Then, you can stand up and sing about the “land of the free”.

    If I want the right to free speech I have to extend that right to others.

    • Right-on!

      I also like this quote from Noam Chomsky:

      “If you believe in free speech, you believe in free speech for views you don’t like. Goebbels believed in free speech for views he liked. So did Stalin. If you believe in free speech, you believe in it precisely for views you despise.”

  14. I’m a chronic optimist, so I like to think that when the WBC is holding up their signs that say “God hates fags” alongside ones that say “God hates America,” and some patriotic person sees that, they’re going to get so angry about the anti-Americanism that they’re going to get angry for us, too. I mean, okay, I’m probably delusional, but I just feel like if someone’s going “Wow, these guys hate America and they’re picketing our soldier’s funerals and maybe I’m not too keen on Obama but it was pretty gross that they wanted to picket Obama’s grandma’s funeral,” then maybe that person will think “And geez, ease up on the gays already.”

    Does that make sense I don’t know I’m kind of drunk and I think I’m off topic because I have nothing to say about them picketing funerals because I am just going to make myself angry and mostly I just need to go to bed instead of getting angry at the WBC.

    • You may be drunk, but you’re right – I can tell you from conversations I’ve had that right-wingers hate the WBC as well, for their anti-American and anti-soldiers stance, and I can’t help but believe that they have turned some unlikely people toward the gay-rights cause by revealing to them just how ugly homophobia can get, and that it really is nothing but stone-cold hatred.

      That’s yet another reason why I don’t think they should be censored. I think they’ve actually done our cause some good – if obviously unintentionally.

  15. This is making me think of a Savage Love letter from a Christian man who was offended by Dan Savage’s anti-religion stance and Dan’s response. http://www.thestranger.com/seattle/SavageLove?oid=5135029

    It doesn’t really seem like it’s as simple as ‘speech is speech, and speech should be protected no matter how hateful’. The issue is more complicated than that. I’ve always thought that the solution to bad speech is more speech, not less. When WBC came to my school, we had a counter-protest and hundreds of people showed up and sang and hugged and gave out “I am loved” buttons. But as a gay, I am super-privileged to live where I do, and many people are not so lucky. Homophobic speech, behavior, legislation–by the WBC or anyone else–it all has an actual effect on the health and safety of actual people.

  16. The comments here about “that they wouldn’t rule that way if it was racism” are just getting irresponsible at this point, especially when they’re coming from one of the authors of this piece. THEY HAVE. MANY TIMES. Neo-Nazis have gone to court to protest their right to free speech when they weren’t allowed to hold demonstrations in a Jewish neighborhood – and they won! With the ACLU backing them!

    The “slippery slope” argument may be a fallacy, except that we’ve seen it play out this way so many times whenever there is some limit to free speech. The anti-pornography laws in Canada, pushed through by feminists wanting to protect women from exploitation, were later used to censor feminist texts about sex! Child pornography laws here (which I agree with, just think they should be quite so all-encompassing) have been used against 15-year-old girls who send pictures of themselves to their boyfriends. So it’s really not hard to see that once we decide it’s okay for things that are offensive to us to no longer have free-speech protection, that a right-winger could easily turn that around on liberals by saying something like “Oh, pro-choice rallies offend me and other fetus-lovers,” and be successful at convincing courts of that.

    And the example of hateful, misogynistic articles in college newspapers doesn’t apply in this situation. Most colleges have some degree of control over what their students print in the official college newspaper, especially if it’s a private college. The First Amendment has to do with GOVERNMENT censorship, and has nothing to do with how smaller organizations, including newspapers and universities, regulate themselves.

  17. Thank god for the second amendment right if they try there stuff in my town. There, they have now incited me to violence. I am a former Marine and I will not take lightly what they do, protected or not, there is little protection from a pissed off Marine with the finest training in the world.

  18. I’m not a law student nor am I American BUT I’m a citizen of this planet and im deeply offended by WBCs actions/slogans/”message”. Someone made the point earlier that although we (LBGT community) may find the language of the WBC offensive, th WBC may also find our Pride marches etc offensive and that even if it offends us it is still any persons right to express it.  Ok i get that, fair point its how democracy works, opposite views are aired and discussed and hopefully a middle ground can b found.  BUT there is and should b a difference in expressing your opinion and being offensive, i dont believe being abusive is a right! To me it sounds as though this thread agree that someones right to say what they want is held above th right of those who have to listen to it – it should be balanced. I by no means would want to block the WBC right to protest but when they tell me I’m goin to hell just because of who I love then that’s offensive, but then I suppose “I disagree with homosexuality” on placcard dosent really fit or impacts as much….. Ach I duno, being under th libra star does not help one when commenting on things such as these!! Lol what I want to say is how can anyone take a protest group seriously when they have to resort to using derogatory slang words instead of th universal terminology?! 

        

  19. So I get the free speech bit, and how it is important to protect it etc, but this is the part that bothers me (aside from the WBC’s existence, obvi):

    “Chief Justice Roberts wrote that two primary factors required a ruling in favor of the church. First, he said, its speech was on matters of public concern. While the messages on the signs carried by its members “may fall short of refined social or political commentary,” he wrote, “the issues they highlight — the political and moral conduct of the United States and its citizens, the fate of our nation, homosexuality in the military and scandals involving the Catholic clergy — are matters of public import.”

    It bothers me that the “issues they highlight” is seen as a matter of public import. “God hates fags” does not get at a political message or one of public import. Just like “God loves homos” would not, either. Just because the hate speech is directed at people many people hate/politicians argue over does not mean it is a matter of public import. I’m all for everyone’s right to be a raging asshole at a safe and quiet distance from others (although the westboro church inspires a scary level of violent fantasies in this pacifist) but I’m disturbed by how this speech is being defined.

    Whether or not God hates or loves anyone CANNOT be a matter of “public import” in this country, also because of the 1st Amendment. Clearly, you can say it, but it should not be defined as it was above.

  20. the WBC is a small and pathetic operation that makes their money by suing the idiots who try and physically attack them. they are a flash in the cultural pan, and they and their kind will be gone from this country within a few generations, as have other cults before them. making this big a deal over an organization so dedicated to existing purely on controversy alone is more or less buying into what the WBC wants.

    it was an extremely unpopular decision by the Roberts court, but the concept of freedom of expression – both in terms of the constitution and the general philosophy of freedom – does not solely exist to protect popular speech. it’s easy to defend what is acclaimed, but much harder and much more courageous to defend the seemingly indefensible. no one is considered brave for speaking out in favor of things that the vast majority is in support of, but it takes heart to make a decision based on principles of freedom even when that freedom is used to state hateful views.

    and obviously the right of free speech for people who despise the WBC are maintained, as they should be, and as is seen at every protest they go to. like the AU protest some months, ago, the WBC are not actually allowed on the grounds of the schools or funeral parlors where they protest, and they only have scarce handfuls of people holding signs – just a demonstration of their true nature as a tiny and harmless cult of a couple dozen thugs who do more to embarrass themselves and bring infamy to the christian right than to expound on any political idea they might have.

    • i don’t really know how i feel about “principles of freedom” that allow hateful language. their approach isn’t even issue-based, and it really is much less about war than about them spewing out slurs constantly, and having the right to do it. hate language is hate language.

  21. I think of Westboro Baptist Church as a sickly canary in a coal mine. As long as it has free speech rights, I feel really secure about my own. And yes, the Supreme Court certainly would have sided with Nazis and Klansmen as well. There are no laws against hate speech in the United States.

    Limiting everyone’s free speech rights and establishing a dangerous precedent is too high of a price to pay for smacking down this tiny little group. We should use other tactics, like mockery or intimidating them with bikers and such. Both have worked well in the past.

    And if we do want to pursue legal action against them, trying to make new laws to limit everyone’s free speech isn’t going to work. I think it would be better to focus on child abuse, spousal abuse, uttering threats against members of a nearby synagogue, and other crimes that Fred Phelps has been accused of in the past. This guy is sick, and while he tries hard to stay within the letter of the law (since he’s a disbarred lawyer with more lawyers in his family), he’s slipped up in the past. We need to watch him like a hawk until he makes a mistake.

    Also, I’ve heard his cultists like to taunt people into getting violent so they can sue. That’s how they make a lot of money. Maybe we can turn the tables and taunt them until they attack, and capture it on camera?

    Remember, these guys are hated equally by everyone, because they pick so many fights, even with people who share their anti-gay views. Personally, I think some crazy right-winger is going to end up using violence to deal with these lunatics. A crazy kid was going to firebomb them when they showed up at Jerry Falwell’s funeral but was reported by his own family before he could act on it. Eventually, these idiots are going to anger someone even crazier than they are and not be so lucky.

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