Saturday, December 11, 2010

Westboro Baptist Church: Fundamentalists, Funerals and the First Amendment

It was Evelyn Beatrice Hall (and not Voltaire) who first said: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”. Well I disagree with what “Pastor” Fred Phelps and his fanatical minions at Westboro Baptist Church have to say and I will not risk even a scuffed shoe to defend their right to say it.

I can think of few things worse than a family grieving and mourning the loss of a loved one being confronted and harangued by someone waving a sign carrying an offensive epithet such as “God Hates Fags”, “Semper Fi Fags” or “God Loves IEDs”. Epithets that are aimed squarely at the family of the deceased telling those assembled that Westboro believes God struck down their loved one to make a statement about his views on homosexuality. Who are these people to think that they have a direct line to heaven and that they can interpret the views of their God?

Unfortunately, this scene is becoming far too common as the Westboro Baptist Church squalidly shuffle around the USA, with an annual travel budget estimated at $250,000 per year. They shout abuse and wave their signs at the families of the deceased, many of whom were soldiers who died in the line of duty. They have protested the funerals of public figures too, including Jerry Falwell (hardly an advocate of liberal causes) and I write this on the day that they plan to picket the funeral of Elizabeth Edwards.

Their views are not just limited to hatred of homosexuality. Also included on their hit list are the Irish, “a nation of sodomites”; journalists, “monolithic propaganda machine of Satan’s big lie”. They even picketed an appliance store in their home town because it sold Swedish made vacuum cleaners and the government of Sweden had been harsh towards a fellow hate preacher.

Westboro Baptist “Church” is headed by disbarred attorney and failed political candidate Fred Phelps.

As a side note, I hear you ask: Why was he disbarred? Well, in 1977, Phelps sued a court reporter, Carolene Brady. Brady, he alleged, had failed to have a court transcript ready for him when he had ordered it. It later turned out he did not need it but this did not stop Fred Phelps from pursuing the suit (God must hate late transcripts). Once he had her on the stand he accused her of being a "slut", alleged she had committed a variety of sexual acts with various men and reduced her to tears. The Kansas Supreme Court later found that the case was nothing more than "the exercise of a personal vendetta by Phelps against Carolene Brady". Seems Pastor Fred has had a rather unhealthy fixation with sex ever since, indeed many of his missives are laced with references to sex and bodily fluids. As for personal vendettas, it seems the Court was truly onto something there.

But, Fred's case got even more interesting…..

Obviously, the Court, in throwing out his case, Phelps must have assumed, had not been following God’s will, and so Fred decided to appeal and give the Almighty’s will a second chance. Fred presented some affidavits for the Court to consider, swearing to the Court that he had eight witnesses whose testimony would convince the court to rule in his favor. Unfortunately, this was a lie, and a lie under oath, (surely not bearing false witness, bet God hates those who bear false witness) and Fred wound up being disbarred.

Phelps and his family are, in my opinion, bitter, hateful individuals who, rather than roaming around the countryside spreading their hate should be standing on street corners selling pencils from a cup to finance their pathetic idea of life, a life that they should be living alone in a place where they do not bother the rest of us. They are vile and the message of hate they spew is sickening and is not protected speech under the first amendment.

The “church” has an estimated “congregation” of 71 or slightly more, most of whom are members of Fred Phelps' family His daughter Shirley Roper-Phelps is one of the lead protestors and is the rather peculiar looking lady who appears on television with a big grin on her face as she speaks about funerals she plans to protest. She has eleven children, one of whom a documentary revealed was born out of wedlock, and this is something that the Phelps have verbally beaten other people up over for years. Come on Fred, help us out, where is God’s hate on this one. Hypocrisy? Does God hate hypocrites? I wonder. But I digress.

Thankfully, the father of a marine killed in action, Albert Snyder, drew a line in the sand when his son’s funeral was victimized and he brought an action against Phelps and his grotesque daughters on the grounds of defamation, invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Doctors testified that the smears spread about the Snyder family by the Phelps, including saying they had caused their son's death, caused real physical harm to Mr. Snyder.

Snyder v. Phelps was tried in 2007 and the trial court awarded Snyder $10.9 million. This was later reduced by the trial Judge to $5 million. Once again, Phelps must have believed that for God to exercise his will he needed a helping hand, and so Phelps moved for a mistrial and, when this was denied, he appealed.

In 2009 the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals set aside the judgment ruling that the protest signs and language on WBC's website were “rhetorical hyperbole and figurative expression, rather than assertions of actual fact, and so were a form of protected speech.” While this affirmed what everyone knows, that the Phelps are full of it and do not have a direct line to God nor does what they say in any way resemble fact, it was still a slap in the face to Snyder, who was also ordered to pay the Phelps costs of some $16,000.

The case is now before the US Supreme Court, having been argued on October, 2010. Before them is a key issue regarding the limits of free speech and what damage we as society will allow a bunch of hypocritical, sex-obsessed, delusional, offensive followers of a perjurer to inflict upon the bereaved.

I believe that the Supreme Court should find, as was found at trial level, that the words of the Westboro Baptist Church are “fighting words”, as defined in Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire, and as such are not covered by first amendment protection. In Chaplinsky the Court held that there were “well defined and narrowly limited” categories of speech that fall outside the bounds of constitutional protection. Fighting words are those that by their very utterance inflict injury or tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace" If ever there were a case where that applied, it is this one.

Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church are truly an abomination. I hope that soon the Supreme Court will reinstate a verdict that will, hopefully, put them out of business, for make no mistake anyone who will cancel a demonstration in return for free air time on the radio is running a business. Until then I am grateful for the Patriot Guard, a group of Veterans who travel wherever the Phelps go and quietly counter-protest and shield the families of the bereaved from the hate of those with twisted minds.


  1. Because his message is hard to take is the greater reason for protecting it!

  2. Great post. Wish more people would lay it out like this instead of hiding behind political correctness. Phelps is worthless and so are his family. I agree that one place where these words would be likely to cause violence is a military funeral.

  3. God Bless the Patriot Guard and God Bless you for telling this how it is!

  4. Amazing post. Thanks for this, it means a lot to those of us who have served!