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Personal Commentary: Westboro is best left ignored

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By AJ Dome

aj.dome@colostate-pueblo.edu

Editor’s note – the following commentary is the personal opinion of Dome, and does not necessarily reflect the views of CSU-Pueblo or this publication.
 
 A newlywed couple strolls down the street, arm in arm, happy to be in each other’s company.

She smiles, and he kisses her cheek. The sun shines on them as they make their way down the sidewalk.

One more thing: the woman is 8 months pregnant.

Then I meet them on the sidewalk. Dark clouds loom in front of the sun, casting an eerie shadow on the world. I stop them in their tracks with my words. I call her a disgusting whore and damn him to the 7th layer of Hell for having sex before marriage.

I never provoke with my body, only my language. Is that a crime?

Photo courtesy of rivercitychorus.org.

I didn’t shout “fire” in a crowded theater. I simply stated my opinion in, quite possibly, the meanest and nastiest way imaginable.

Now, if I actually did that, I would hope and pray the couple would beat me badly. I deserved it, after all. I disrupted their well-being and made false accusations towards two people I have never met before.

However, I wouldn’t be charged with a crime. I would get away with it because I did not break any law.

Westboro Baptist Church can, in a somewhat-similar way, do the exact same thing and not be charged criminally for it. On March 2, the Supreme Court ruled 8-1 that the church was–and still is–acting within the protection of the First Amendment when they protest at funerals.

Westboro operates out of Topeka, Kan., which leaves a bad taste in the mouths of the rest of the state–and the nation. I am a native Kansan, and the actions of the radical church disgust me.

Now I am an official resident of Colorado, yet the actions of Rev. Fred Phelps and his posse of believers manage to incite a reaction from me anyway.

This is what Phelps wanted all along. His shady business venture is one of ill morals and even sicker methods. He won’t earn actual cash when a person starts arguing with one of his followers, but he will make his point known–and that’s all he wants.

His business is to bring attention to himself and his church, and he got that. If we could reverse our philosophy on organizations such as Westboro, than we would not have this problem.

Ignorance is indeed bliss.

Forgetting that Phelps ever existed is the best way to extinguish him and his group. Westboro is, after all, a non-profit organization. They need donations and membership monies to survive. Without those things, they’re dead in the water.

Their followers will leave, their finances will plummet, and they will cease to function as an organization. The Phelps family probably has a savings account just in case this happens, but that won’t help them much if they have no pawns to hold their hateful signs.

The First Amendment cannot be infringed upon. Period. However, there are loopholes.

The Patriot Guard attends funerals to show their support and dedication to those who served our country in the Armed Forces. Many of the riders in the Guard are veterans themselves, and they hold the highest respect for the military persons who’s funeral they are attending.

Their mission statement is simple; it only has two points. The second one applies more frequently lately: “shield the mourning family and their friends from interruptions created by any protestor or group of protestors.”

Luckily, I’ve seen these men and women in action before, and I liked it. There was a funeral held in my hometown for a young soldier killed in a training exercise.

Mounting their respective motorcycles, the Patriot Guard outnumbered the Westboro protestors by an impressive 7 to 1. The protesters were effectively shut up, the funeral proceeded without any problems, and the day went on. That’s just what’s needed for this situation.

The problem is Phelps and his hate-mongering church. The solution is organizations like the Patriot Guard and their motorcycles. However, the solution isn’t just limited to motorcycles.

After the deadly shootings in Tucson, Ariz., Phelps and his followers talked about protesting the funeral of 9-year old Christina Taylor Green, who was killed on that day. Fortunately, a local radio station offered them airtime instead of the protest, and Westboro backed down and accepted the radio station’s offer.

If, in fact, the protesters had picketed the funeral, then another organization could have stepped in and blocked them. Also, the new Arizona state laws mandate that funeral protesters must stay 300 feet away, and are not to be present within an hour before or after the funeral.

Other states already have distance limits on Westboro. In Kansas the limit is 1000 feet. Arizona might want to amend their law to follow suit with Kansas. 1000 feet is almost not enough space.

Perhaps more organizations will step up and follow the Patriot Guard’s example. Heck, the Knitting Guild of America could do it.

The media isn’t out of this picture either. The radio station in Arizona probably didn’t want to offer Westboro the chance to speak on air. Hopefully they did it to avoid lighting a potential powder-keg. The absolute last thing we want to do is start a fight with a bunch of obnoxious radicals.

It would be nice to punch the sign-holders in the face, but I would get charged with the crime and they wouldn’t. The First Amendment protects their words and actions. And no, we will not consider changing the First Amendment, because the public would milk that for all it’s worth.

If we allow this little nuisance of a church to dig under our skin and bother us, then they have already won. If the statute was changed to make their speech illegal, then others would challenge in court what they considered to be “hate speech,” and we would have an epidemic of court cases battling whether or not something should be said.

Then, in a blink, our freedoms are limited.

They are already limited enough. I still want the ability to write articles such as this in the future. I support the Supreme Court’s decision, but I absolutely despise the organization involved. That is why I like the Patriot Guard, and want to see more organizations like them.

“All that is wrong in American can be fixed by all that is right in America.” I forgot who said that, but that’s exactly how I feel this situation should be handled.