The Reverend Dr. Robert H. Shuller always ended his Hour of Power broadcasts with the words, “God loves you and so do I.” While I’ve chosen to open this week’s piece with his words, understand that this article isn’t about him or God.
The literal antithesis of Robert Shuller is Fred Phelps, Pastor of Westboro Baptist Church out of Topeka, Kansas. HIS message goes in a disturbingly hateful direction.
Westboro Baptist is very small congregation of religious zealots consisting of about 75 people (as of 2008), most of which are members of the Phelps family. Pay no attention to the “Baptist” moniker because they’re actually Calvinists.
This is not a blanket condemnation of Calvinists. But this particular group is unique in the way they use religious dogma to spew hateful intolerance at others by using demonstrations at funerals as a mechanism.
These people demonstrate at military funerals all over the country. But, they will demonstrate at ANY funeral or OTHER occasion that will get them the attention they crave. The essence of their message is that ALL of America’s problems stem from its aggregate tolerance of homosexuality.
They’re obsessive about it to the point that ordinary people have to wonder why they protest too loudly, if you get my drift. The group had a web site at www.godhatesfags.com, but you can’t reach it because of perpetual denial of service attacks.
Their latest gig on the national stage of controversy involved the Supreme Court’s most recent decision upholding the groups 1st Amendment rights to Free Speech in Snyder v Phelps. Some law-abiding folks foresee a potentially volcanic eruption of violence aimed at Westboro if they keep it up.
And, trust me; Westboro Baptist will KEEP IT UP. But, while this is a foregone conclusion, what has fascinated me for several years is the degree to which the rest of us have permitted this small crowd of religious fanatics to tie us up in knots, both physiologically and psychologically.
Mr. Snyder won a judgment against Westboro Baptist for $11-million in the original lawsuit. The trial judge reduced it to $5-million. But, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed it altogether on a 1st Amendment violation cause; and the U. S. Supreme Court upheld the 4th Circuit’s reversal.
Making matters worse for Mr. Snyder is the fact that Westboro counter-sued to recover legal expenses. They’ll probably win, leaving Mr. Snyder with some sizable legal fees.
I understand Mr. Snyder’s disgust with the Supreme Court’s ruling. All he wanted to do was bury his 20-year-old son with the dignity befitting a soldier killed in combat operations. And, millions of Americans agree with his assessment.
The Attorney Generals of 48-other states filed Amicus briefs (Friend of the Court) with the Supreme Court on behalf of his cause of action. And, 42-United States Senators, as well as virtually every veterans group in the country followed suit.
His attorney advised him that winning the point was a long shot. But, given the emotion involved and the overwhelming support (see above) for his cause, he appealed anyway. He was absolutely convinced that “God was on his side.”
I’m not about to question God’s position on anything because I don’t know what it is. I’m not even sure that there is a God; no one knows for sure. Anyway, the point’s irrelevant. Our Constitution as interpreted by 5 of 9 sitting Justices is what matters.
Given the High Court’s precedents regarding 1st Amendment Rights over the past 50-years (at a minimum), there was no way that the Justices could have ruled in Mr. Snyder’s favor on the broad principle of Free Speech.
And, even on the narrow issue—meaning as Free Speech applies under the circumstances of this particular case—his chances of him winning the point were slim to none.
Given the detestable nature of Westboro’s behavior in these matters, I believe the Justices exerted a valiant effort to find some element of law, even local law, that would have let them rule in Mr. Snyder’s favor within the narrow scope of this particular case.
But, none existed. Margie Phelps is Westboro’s legal counsel. And, like her or NOT, she’s a competent lawyer. She knows the law and how to make sure the church group follows it TO THE LETTER.
Personally, the 8 to 1 ruling in favor of Westboro shocked me, too. I thought for sure that it was going to be UNANIMOUS. And, Justice Alito’s dissent shocked me even more.
I met him when he was U. S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey. I got to know him even more when former President George H. W. Bush appointed him to the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals in 1990. He was a good attorney, a methodical federal prosecutor, and an outstanding U. S. Circuit Court judge.
George W. Bush, although he did it in a convoluted way, made a good choice when he nominated him for the U. S. Supreme Court in 2007.
If we could dispense with the emotional baggage involved with these kinds of issues, we’d discover that there are only three ways to prevent the likes of Westboro from spewing their hateful brand of religious dogma.
The first way is PROBABLY doable; but it’s extremely complicated and excruciatingly time-consuming. The second way is childishly simple, far less time-consuming, but PROBABLY impossible. The third way is even simpler. And, while it’s criminal, it’s PROBABLY inevitable.
The first way is long and bureaucratic. It involves the legislative bodies of the several U. S. States, in conjunction with United States Congress drafting legislation to define exceptions to our Free Speech rights. We can do it, but it will take substantial cerebral thinking by state and national lawmakers. The usual knee-jerk lawmaker reactions will not succeed.
But, assuming we succeed, we’ll then have to go through the usual litany of mutual back scratching amendments to get it through all the state general assemblies and ultimately through BOTH Houses of the United States Congress.
And, even after all of this, we’ll be treated to the usual dissenter-oriented Constitutional challenges that virtually define “perpetuity.” But, if we stick to it, in about 20-years we’ll have exceptions that will pass Constitutional muster.
The second way is child-like simple and relatively quick. But, human nature all but assures its failure. Here's why.
ALL counter-demonstrations would have to cease. The national and local media in ALL formats (print/electronic, TV/radio, cable and mainstream) would have to adopt a policy of ignoring the bastards. NO reporters! NO cameras! NO interviews! NO exceptions!
But, herein is where we run head first into the wall of IMPOSSIBILITY. And, it has nothing to do with the media because the media simply follows our lead—readers, listeners, and viewers—on what they should or should NOT ignore.
In the aggregate, we LOVE emotionally driven hissy fits. And, every time Westboro flips dead soldiers’ families and friends the bird by demonstrating at their funerals, the click-through count on millions of web sites goes off the scale and the sales of hard-copy increase dramatically.
As usual, reports of the obscene and tragic triumph over those of goodness and virtue. Ratings increase. Advertising revenue increases and, once again, money trumps morality.
The third alternative—and the most likely one—is for the rest of us to chill and realize that Earth is home to billions of people. Some of them are assholes with 2-digit IQ mentality. Let the “good” dummies start arranging meetings between the “evil” dummies and that God with whom they all claim to be so chummy. I’m just saying!
Joe Walther is a freelance writer and publisher of The True Facts. You may comment on his column by clicking here.