Wednesday, August 19, 2009
A slap in the face for those who gave their lives
(The following is my column for this week's Newton County News.)
It was difficult enough for Army Spc. Edward Myers’ widow to deal with the death of her 21-year-old husband in Iraq. His death left her alone raising two infant children, knowing that the life she and her husband had planned was never going to be.
At the least, Mrs. Myers should have had the solace of a reverent, respectful funeral and the opportunity to say goodbye to her husband.
Instead those attending Spc. Myers’ funeral four years ago were greeted by a lunatic contingent from the Westboro Baptist Church.
The signs were bad enough. As Mrs. Myers arrived, she was greeted with larger-than-life messages saying “Thank God for IEDS” (the explosive devices used to kill American soldiers), “God Hates You,” “You’re Going to Hell,” and “Fag Troops” (a reference to the church’s belief that the deaths of American soldiers is God’s retribution for the country’s tolerant treatment of homosexuality). Perhaps the worst sign was the one that read “Pray for more dead soldiers.”
Just as bad as what was written on the signs were the vile words that flowed from the church members’ lips.
According to KMBC-TV, Kansas City, Shirley Phelps-Roper, the sister of the church’s pastor, Fred Phelps, said, “That’s the first piece of solid evidence you have that the young man is currently in hell.”
After the Myers funeral and other similar protests of military funerals, Missouri legislators passed a law, named for Spc. Myers, which would prevent this kind of protest, keeping the church members or anyone else who would consider protesting at funerals a certain distance away from the site, and also preventing them from protesting for one hour before and one hour after the services.
Since that time, church members, backed by the American Civil Liberties Union, have battled the laws, claiming their first amendment rights to freedom of speech and freedom of religion were being violated.
And lately, the Westboro Baptist Church and the ACLU have been winning every battle. On my blog, I recently wrote about a decision made by Laclede County officials to back down and agree not to do anything about any protests at funerals.
A federal court judge has issued a temporary injunction allowing the protests to continue, and this has emboldened the church members.
On Monday, Shirley Phelps-Roper and the ACLU filed lawsuits against two Missouri cities, Manchester and Pevely. In the petition, the ACLU attorney explained the church’s beliefs:
"Plaintiff is a resident of Topeka, Kansas. She is a member of WBC. WBC follows Primitive Baptist and Calvinist doctrines. Based on these doctrines, church members, including Plaintiff, believe that homosexuality is a sin and an abomination. They believe homosexuality is an abomination, integrally related to idolatry, and indicative of the final reprobation of an individual; it follows, according to their beliefs, that acceptance of homosexuality by society prompts divine judgment. They further believe that God is punishing America for the sin of homosexuality and other policies of sin by killing Americans, including soldiers. Because God is omnipotent to cause or prevent tragedy, they believe that when tragedy strikes it is indicative of God’s wrath.”
The petition also includes a notation that "(Ms. Phelps-Roper) and her church believe that the scriptures teach that an individual who dies on the battlefield for a nation that is at enmity with God cannot go to heaven and, despite the views of public figures and the public at large, is not a hero."
One of the hallmarks of our way of life has always been that we allow all kinds of speech in this country, even speech that we find vile and disgusting, and as much as I hate to see any law restricting such speech, there certainly must be consideration given to the memory of those who have given their lives for this country, as well as for their family and friends.
The Westboro Baptist Church must not be allowed to continue this perversion of the First Amendment. The church members have every right to espouse their views, no matter how repugnant most of us find them, but they should have no right to strut in front of the cameras with their message of hate at a time when the survivors need nothing but the care and love of the community.