The people of Weston, Missouri and others who came from quite a distance exercised their rights on Saturday, successfully sending a band of protesters from the Westboro Baptist Church packing.
The Westboro Baptist Church, Topeka, Kansas, had obtained a permit to protest at an intersection in Weston, Missouri, during the funeral held on November 6, 2010 for Sgt. First Class C.J. Sadell, who died October 24 from injuries he suffered in a surprise attack in Afghanistan.
As reported by Fox 4, Weston has less than 2,000 residents, and hundreds of people showed up to support the family of First Sgt. Sadell. People came from Blue Springs, California and even Australia to be a part of the band of patriotic supporters.
Half of the citizen group arrived early and took up all the parking places, lining up at the intersection so that there was no room for the protesters, while the other half created a human shield at the funeral home.
According to Fox 4, “supporters came armed with patriotic music and American flags. The protesters didn’t stick around long once they saw the supporters.” (Click here for article and video).
The Westboro Baptist Church
Wikipedia states that the Westboro Baptist Church, located in Topeka, Kansas held its first public service in 1955. It is an independent Baptist church and is not affiliated with any known Baptist conventions or associations. The WBC, widely described as a hate group, is headed by Fred Phelps and consists mostly of members of his large family; in 2007, it had 71 members.
The church is known for its stance against homosexuality and its protest activities, which include picketing funerals and desecrating the American flag. It has been actively involved in the anti gay movement since at least 1991.
According to Wikipedia, Phelps and his family picket approximately six locations every day, including many in Topeka and some events farther afield. On Sundays, up to 15 churches may receive pickets. By their own count, WBC has conducted over 30,000 pickets, in all 50 states, in over 500 cities and towns. Their travel budget exceeds $200,000 annually.
The Supreme Court debates military funeral protests
The Supreme Court heard testimony in October, 2010 regarding a case before the Court involving the Westboro Baptist Church and the family of Marine Lance Corporal Matthew Snyder, who was killed in Iraq on March 3, 2006. Lance Corporal Snyder’s funeral was held on March 10, 2006 in Westminster, Maryland.
Members of the Westboro Church protested at the funeral, holding up signs showing hateful language against homosexuals. Matthew Snyder was not gay and Phelps acknowledged that fact, also acknowledging that Snyder’s sexuality played no part in the protest.
The Westboro Baptist Church uses military funerals as a means of protesting the tolerance of homosexuality in the United States, doing so under the protection of First Amendment right of free speech.
The outcome of this Supreme Court case may not be known for several months.
Free speech or hate speech?
The Supreme Court decision regarding protests at military funerals will be an important one to come down on First Amendment rights.
At issue are such questions as:
Is all speech protected, or should hate speech be excluded from First Amendment rights, and if so, under what circumstances?
Is harassment at issue regarding protests at military funerals?
Does defamation of character play a role, which has been argued in the case involving Lance Corporal Matthew Snyder who was not gay, although protest signs were all about hateful language against homosexuals?
Does intentional infliction of emotional distress enter into the equation?
The Westboro Baptist Church is not a large group; therefore, when they protest, they are a few people trying to tell everyone else how to think. Are they protected by the First Amendment in their right to do this at military funerals? Many observers of the high court feel that this decision may come down on the side of the Westboro Baptist Church. If it does, it may become their legal right, but what the court won’t define is moral right.
My opinion: This “church” has no moral values, and what they are doing at military funerals is reprehensible. I salute the citizen groups at Weston, Missouri and hope that citizens all over the United States will likewise stand up for their rights of decency and honor whenever a military funeral is conducted.
In 2005, I was personally handed the folded flag of the United States at the service conducted for my husband by an honor guard at the national cemetery where he is buried, along with the spent shells from their gun salute. My family had privacy and respect at that time, and my heart goes out to the mourning families that are denied that right when they say their final goodbyes to their loved ones.
After the hearing at the Supreme Court, the father of Marine Lance Corporal Matthew Snyder, speaking softly to reporters in the background, said this: “The Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church’s conduct was so extreme that it went beyond all possible boundaries of basic human decency. It could be regarded as utterly intolerable in a civilized nation.”
Is there a way to reign in hate speech in a civilized nation? In the case of it being used at military funerals in protest demonstrations, one can only hope.