Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Tuesday's Hate Group: The Westboro Baptist Church

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

(This week I am incorporating a new feature into The Ramble. Whereas we seem to be in an era of unbridled hate groups running roughshod over the land, I am going to dedicate the Tuesday editions of The Ramble to discussing these evil organizations. There have been several in the news over the past few days, and two of those have been featured rather prominently: the "Hutaree" militia in Michigan and Fred Phelps and his hate-riddled spawn of the Westboro Baptist Church (sic) in Topeka, Kansas. The Hutaree, a group of militant fascists with penis issues, will have to wait their turn, because when it comes to raw hate, nobody does it better than the Phelps' clan.)

I have discussed the Westboro Baptist Church on this blog before. The "church," as well as the family that basically comprises it, reside in a compound on the outskirts of Topeka, Kansas. The patriarch, Fred Phelps, is an eighty-year-old native of Mississippi who was a drop-out from the infamous Bob Jones University. He eventually earned a law degree at Washburn University and went on to practice civil rights law in and around Topeka before being disbarred in 1977.

Fred started the Westboro Baptist Church in 1955 and has been its pastor since the church's founding. Most of the congregants are his children (he fathered 13), his grandchildren (54) and his great-grandchildren (7). Although there have been numerous stories of the elder Phelps being a seriously abusive parent, most of his children have stayed close to their father and are active participants in his bigoted works.

Fred and his clan are against a bunch of things. They hate Jews, Catholics, Swedes, Irish, and probably aren't very fond of the British who have barred him from entering their country for his fostering of hatred and extremism.

But Fred and his rabble really, truly, sincerely hate gays. Their website, in fact, is www.godhatesfags.com. Check it out if you have the stomach for it.

Hate groups thrive on controversy, and the fools of the Westboro Baptist Church have come up with a sure-fire formula for keeping just about everybody pissed off at them. Many years ago they began protesting the funerals of gay people and those who supported the rights of gay people. They celebrated the AIDS epidemic feeling that God was using the disease to justify their bigotry. The group made a scene at Matthew Shepard's funeral and even came to Arizona to protest at the funeral of conservative icon Barry Goldwater because they felt he had been too tolerant of homosexuals.

Sometime a few years ago Fred and his kids, many of whom are lawyers (thank you, Washburn!), came up with the convoluted logic that the United States government was promoting or at least protecting homosexuality, so therefore the U.S. military owned some of the responsibility for America's moral decline. If that was the case, then according to their goofball logic, American soldiers dying in combat was a good thing - is was God's will - it was Almighty payback for the government functioning as a gay-enabler.

A press release on Westboro's website declares:

"Military funerals have become pagan orgies of idolatrous blasphemy, where they pray to the dunghill gods of Sodom and play taps to a fallen fool."

Armed with that logic, the group began picketing the funerals of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan - picketing and yelling and screaming and exercising their "right of free speech" as loudly and as obnoxiously as possible during a family's most intense and personal grief. Many of the protesters come armed with video cameras so that if they are attacked by angry mourners, they have a video record that they can take into Court and use in a lawsuit. (Remember, there are many lawyers in this clan.)

The Westboro protesters carry signs that read "Thank God for dead soldiers!" They have signs stating "Thank God for IED's." And then there is the ubiquitous "God hates fags!" For a group that claims an adherence to Christ, these yokels are literally brimming with hate.

Ft. Campbell, Kentucky, is the home of the 101st Airborne Division, a brave group of young men and women, many of whom have served multiple tours (3 or more) in the war zones. When I first went to Ft. Campbell to work in 2005, the base would hold a memorial service at one of the main gates each month to honor troops from Fort Campbell who had died that month in Iraq. The Phelps' crew began coming to Kentucky to disrupt those solemn ceremonies, and they were soon discontinued. Thank God our troops were in the Middle East fighting so that the morons from Westboro would have the right to protest!

The current news about the Westboro Baptist involves the funeral of Lance Corporal Matthew Snyder, a brave and honorable marine who died in Iraq in 2006. Matthew's father, Albert Snyder, was very distraught that his son's funeral was disrupted by this trash out of Kansas, and he went to court and sued the Westboro Baptist Church for "emotional distress." The court agreed with Mr. Snyder's logic and awarded him a hefty five million dollars. Westboro's coven of lawyers appealed, of course, and today the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the decision of the lower court and also ruled that Mr. Snyder, the bereaved parent, had to pay Westboro's legal fees in the amount of $16,510!

No shit.

The Supreme Court has indicated that it will hear the case this fall.


Mike Box said...

To understand the opinion you have to digest Milkovich, Falwell, Red Lion, exaggerated rhetoric, facts, opinions, actual facts, provable facts, pecuniary loss, emotional loss, triers of fact distinguished from triers of law, the language of jury instructions, stare decisis as to the type of speech without regard to the status of the intended target of the speech, reasonable restrictions on speech, and an abandoned claim of sufficiency of evidence.

The case is not so simple as the media talking points would make it sound.

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals has rendered a well considered opinion. You may read it in full at:
www.ca4.uscourts.gov. Then plug in 08-1026 as the case number.

The Supreme Court has granted certiorari Questions presented to the Supreme Court are:

1. Does Hustler Magazine, Inc. v. Falwell apply to a private person versus another private person concerning a private matter?

2. Does the First Amendment's freedom of speech tenet trump the First Amendment's freedom of religion and peaceful assembly?

3. Does an individual attending a family member's funeral constitute a captive audience who is entitled to state protection from unwanted communication?

All that glitters isn't gold and all that stinks isn't manure.

It takes real skill to take an idea and express it in terms of trial and appellate practice.

By the way, the Court of Appeals did not enter a judgment for attorneys fees, it did discharge all of the bonds. That left Snyder on the hook until the Supremes rule.

Reed said...

I did not go to school for pre-law. I could not tell you the first amendment nor the meaning of it. However, if you want to know all of the muscles in a T-bone I'm all over it.
My concern is not with the law, it's with the humanity of it. How in the world could there be a group of people actually protest a funeral of a soldier. One yahoo I could understand, but an entire group of people? I heard one time that if you don't stand behind our soldiers, you should stand in front of them.

Mike Box said...

These folks from Westboro are unlike anyone I have ever met. Several years ago I went to a big church on the Country Club Plaza in K.C. to listen to man named Matthew Fox. Fox is a mystic, a former Roman Catholic priest, now an Episcopal priest, he is an author.

I went to see what he had to say. I have to confess I had an ounce or two of skepticism, but I tried to keep an open mind.

Leaving this church you expect a pleasant experience because it is in a posh area of K.C. Not that day.

Those blessed folks from Westboro had all but overtaken the sidewalks. I got up close treatment of their special brand of preaching. They waived hateful signs, they cursed, they screeched, they spat, they made all sort and manner of false accusations.

I cannot imagine letting these persons unleash their irrational conduct on a grieving family.

They need to be stopped. This case is not over.

If they act out at these funerals as they acted out on the Plaza maybe they could be hauled off to jail for inciting a riot, or taken into custody for mental evaluations.

Mike Box said...

Turns out no legal fees were assessed. Following the rules of procedure the losing party is taxed costs. In this case the filing fee and the costs of printing. This is a routine assesment, nothing snarly going on.

Since the case is now before the U.S. Supreme Court the matter is held in abeyance. If/when Snyder wins, I think he's got an above average shot at it, then the costs go away and the pendulum swings the other way.

After recalling my experience with this malignancy on the body politick I got to wondering if Westboro should quallify as a church.

I don't think that their services are open to the public. There website doesn't preach anything but harrasment. I think if the Supremes order a remand that the issue of whether Westboro is entitled to the protections that claim ought to be litigated.

Admiring the Emperor's clothes doesn't mean he isn't naked as a jay bird.