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Westboro Baptist Church Hate Group should not get First Amendment protection

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The First Amendment provides one of our most cherished freedoms, the freedom of speech. As a high school government teacher, I understand that the First Amendment protects speech that is often times unpopular. Unpopular speech needs protection; otherwise, the people in power could censor any speech considered unpopular. During the last fifty years, the Supreme Court has protected many types of “unpopular speech” including:

* Nazis have the right to march in a Jewish community, with a high percentage of Holocaust survivors.

* Corporations and labor unions may directly contribute to political candidates.

* Students have the right to wear black armbands in school in order to protest war.

Our Founders felt the best way to defeat unpopular speech is to defeat it with more speech. If speech is unpopular, rather than give in to the knee jerk reaction to censor it, allow it to be expressed, then defeat it with your own valid arguments. Robust criticism must be allowed if we are to be free. This reminds me of an earlier Supreme Court ruling, New York Times Co. v. Sullivan:

“Debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust, and wide-open, and that it may well include vehement, caustic, and sometimes unpleasantly sharp attacks on government and public officials."

Now, having stated my support for Freedom of Speech, I must vehemently state I do not support the rights of any group to use vile, hateful speech at any funeral. See below to see what I mean by “hateful” and “vile”.

Yes, the statements on their signs also includes: God Hates Your Tears, God is Your Enemy, Thank God for 9/11, Thank God for Katrina, Fag Soldier in Hell, Thank God for AIDS, Dyke Nuns and Fag Priests, and AIDS is God’s Gift.

Classy bunch, huh? Just the type of people you want at a loved one’s funeral. What a fond way to remember the last moments of your loved one on this planet. This disgusts me. So who are these nut jobs?

They are members of the Westboro Baptist Church from Topeka, Kansas (no this is not a Google-related April’ Fools Day joke) and are very well known for a website called Godhatesfags.com where they spew hate. They are lead by Fred Phelps, who has God Hates Fagsdirected these dispensers of hate for the last fifty years. Under his direction, the Church has protested military funerals in order to make a statement that America’s toleration of homosexuality is the reason why our soldiers are dying in Iraq and why we were attacked on 9/11. Thanks Fred, I would have totally missed that cause and effect relationship had you not so eloquently pointed that out. Yikes, talk about screwed up logic. So is their message, though unpopular, considered to be free speech that needs protection?

The Supreme Court traditionally does not support hate speech. And this group is a hate group. The Anti-Defamation League hit the nail on the head when they designated Westboro a hate group, writing that:

“the Topeka, Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) is a small virulently homophobic, anti-Semetic hate group that regularly stages protests around the country, often several times a week”. 

Now, let’s move to the recent Westboro legal drama that has captured the interest of many of us during the last couple of days. A grieving father has suffered unimaginable pain, not once, but now, three times.

Albert Snyder experienced what all agree is the most unbearable loss, the death of a child. His son, Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder, while serving his country, gave the ultimate sacrifice in 2006, died in Iraq. The Westboro group protested at his funeral in Maryland. Instead of experiencing the solemn pride that must come when a member of the military is laid to rest with all the patriotic pageantry that the United States of America can offer, the grieving father was forced to endure the taunts and protests of these loons, holding signs such as "GOD LOVES IEDs" and "THANK GOD FOR DEAD SOLDIERS." Outraged by the vulgar display at his son’s funeral, Albert Snyder sued the church and won. A jury awarded the Snyder family almost $11 million. The judge in the case reduced the judgment to $5 million, but the church appealed.

Just last week, three judges in the Fourth District Court of Appeals in Virginia overturned the verdict, claiming that the vicious protesters have a right to free speech. The appeals court said, “Notwithstanding the distasteful and repugnant nature of the words being challenged in these proceedings, we are constrained to concluded that the defendants’ signs are constitutionally protected." Even more outrageous, the judges further aggravated the pain of a mournful father by awarding the Westboro extremists court costs, meaning the Snyder family has to pay $16,510.80 to their persecutors.

Wow. Can you say an injustice? Talk about being burglarized and being forced to apologize to your burglar for not keeping the front door open for him. Unbelievable.

Although the Westboro Baptists have the First Amendment Right to present their perverted and morally bankrupt beliefs, they should not have the right disrupt a private or religious ceremony in order to do so. Picketing at soldiers’ funerals – or any funerals for that matter – doesn’t constitute free speech; it infringes on the freedom of those individuals who are grief-stricken and merely attempting to celebrate a cherished life lost.

The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear Snyder’s appeal in October, which is a good sign for the Snyder family. However, they will need extra funds to battle this injustice.

Please consider helping the Synder family by donating to their cause.

Hopefully, the Supreme Court will make the right decision in October. The highest authority in the Land can finally judge Fred Phelps and his despicable actions. This earthly justice will have to suffice, because none of us here on Earth can watch when God himself judges Mr. Phelps when he dies and passes from this earth. I just hope that God is as wrathful as Mr. Phelps claims he is.

Photo of Westboro Baptist Hate Group from http://images-cdn01.associatedcontent.com