The American Flag is slowly being folded into a perfect triangle by soldiers. Bystanders watch as a twenty one gun salute is given to a veteran’s family who gave his life for our country. The family weeps over their lost loved one.
This sacred moment in time is one that no one should interrupt. A group out of Kansas known as Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) travels around the country protesting at soldiers’ funerals that the death is God’s punishment to the U.S. for tolerating homosexuality in the country. This so called “church” is able to hold protests due to constitutional rights and express their freedom of speech; however they should not be allowed to protest at funerals out of respect for the deceased and disturbing the peace. The Westboro Baptist Church is disturbing the public’s peace, but still has the freedom of speech to picket and protest what they please. Funerals should be sacred, and therefore Congress should pass a law placing limits on where it is acceptable to protest. Research Section:
The Brief Bio of Pastor Fred Phelps states, in Topeka, Kansas, Fred Phelps founded the Westboro Baptist Church in 1955. Phelps was appointed to the United States Military Academy at West Point, but instead enrolled for Bible/Ministerial training at Bob Jones College. Joined by his family and friends, Phelps is still leading the church today. The Westboro Baptist Church is a non – profit organization, and the church considers itself an “Old School” Baptist Church.
The Westboro Church groups are traveling around the country making stops several times a week to protest and picket. “Targets include schools the group deems to be accepting of homosexuality; Catholic, Lutheran, and other Christian denominations that WBC feels are heretical; and funerals for people murdered or killed in accidents like plane crashes and for American soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, a tactic the group started in 2005” (The Anti-Defamation League). Not only directed at soldiers and gays, The Westboro Baptist Church fuels on any tragedy happening in the United States.
After the natural disaster of hurricane Sandy, the church protests that it was a sign from God. The Constitution, under the Bill of Rights, protects this groups’ advocacy to protest wherever they wish. The church holds signs saying “Pope in hell”, “Thanks God for dead soldiers”, “God Hates Fags” and anything else to offend the people or groups it is towards. They also wear American flags around their waste and will kick it around on the ground. The community cannot endure the verbal torture any long and this has led to court cases and out breaks. Jonsson states “While Westboro is usually careful to stay within the law and clear protests with local police, counter protesters have in the past attacked members of the group, even pouring coffee on them and spitting on them.” Argument:
The Westboro Church should not be able to disturb the peace and privacy at a funeral nor picket institutions or individuals for supporting homosexuality. The signs they display are disturbing, inappropriate, and offensive. The Westboro Church’s controversial appearances have led to several court cases dealing with places restrictions on the freedom to protest, particularly distance limits on how close you are authorized to protest from a funeral site. One case was brought forward by Albert Snyder, father of Mathew Snyder, a 20 year-old solider killed in Iraq.
Ariane de Vogue stated “The case, one of the most controversial on the court docket, was brought by Albert Snyder, who sued the church, after members picketed the funeral of his son, Lance Corporal Matthew Snyder, who died in Iraq”. The Church has many opinions that should not be said or displayed to the public due to the emotional cause and pain the public has to endure. Having hurt the American citizens, the Westboro Church, under the first amendment, has the freedom of speech. The First Amendment states “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Therefore, this gives the Westboro Baptist Church the right to protest in public while being protected by federal law. The Church groups were standing far enough away from the funeral that the court could not prove the protest was exactly pointed at the Snyder’s son’s burial. Warren Richey stated “The protesters stood in a cordoned off area approved by police about a thousand feet from the church.” The Supreme Court used the distance the group was away from the burial to say that the protest was not pointed directly at Snyder’s family during the burial.
Even though The Westboro Church has the First Amendment protecting them, they are still disturbing the peace and offending the public by protesting. Our freedom of speech is protected by the Constitution which is protected by our soldiers, a freedom Westboro Baptist Church has abused by protesting the very soldiers who fight for this freedom. Holding signs saying “you’re going to hell”, “God hates America”, and “Thank God for IEDs”, are insulting to the public and the country and are affecting Americans everywhere. “Snyder has called the day his son died ‘the worst day of his life’.
His grief was compounded, he said, by being targeting by the church’s demonstrations. ‘It is one thing no family should ever have to go through’”(De Vogue, Ariane). The definition of disturbing the peace is “A person who fights in a public area, or who brings about the threat of fighting, anyone who is purposefully disruptive of an otherwise peaceful public assembly, one who solicits money while in a public place a person who is drunk, and unruly in a public area, or any group that participates in an unlawful assembly” (For the people). Westboro would fall under anyone who is purposefully disruptive of an otherwise peaceful public assembly. The church is showing poor judgment and an utter disregard for human dignity when they protest at a funeral. Proposal:
With all the disturbances that the Westboro Baptist Church has caused, Congress should incorporate litigation to prevent insults to others. Congress must pass a law placing limits on the extent of free speech and the right to protest in regard to memorial services. Given the freedom of speech, Congress cannot prohibit the protestors from displaying signs that are obscene or stating their opinions, but can pass a law stating how far away from the funeral the protests have to be. Williams stated, “Indeed, in the incident in question, Westboro complied with police requests to stay 1,000 feet from the funeral, and all but the tops of its members’ signs were hidden from mourners’ view”. Congress should take this into consideration and reflect upon veterans and American citizens civil rights. In my opinion, family members should not have to face such obscenities during a period of mourning.
The First Amendment does not prevent Westboro Baptist Church from offending the family members and citizens from their perverse signs and protests. Therefore, many civil law suits have not proven effective towards the church under the right of the First Amendment and freedom of speech. Most Americans whose thoughts are negative towards the church’s views choose to hold counter protests in support of veteran’s family members who have been killed in combat (Policinski, 2011). Congress passing the law should help these families during a time of grief to remember their loved one, and not have to see the disgraceful sign of hatred to this country. Conclusion:
The First Amendment to the Constitution is a privilege Americans take grand ownership of. However, a group of individuals from the Westboro Baptist Church are taking advantage of this right we all have, pushing the freedom of speech to the point where citizens are questioning its true value. Individuals are starting to come together to counter protest toward Westboro so they will stop insulting those that fight for this country.
Policinski stated “A few weeks ago, in Nashville, Tenn., more than 1,000 counter-protesters turned out in support of family members of a soldier killed in combat, overwhelming the presence of a small Westboro contingent”. The daily lives of Americans should not have to be interrupted by such insanity, and having to see vulgar signs shooting down the citizens and their country, also that their nation’s flag is being tossed around like a rag doll. If we fail to police our own responsibilities as citizens, America will shrink back to the oppressed nation it once was. Congress must push to clarify and define what is protected In the Constitution and end this travesty that is disrupting our peace.
“Disturbing The Peace.” For The People. Morgan and Morgan. 2012. Web. 28 Nov. 2012.
Gene, Policinski. “Commentary: Inside The First Amendment: Laws Are Not Best Way To Thwart Westboro.” Daily Record, The (Baltimore, MD) (n.d.): Legal Collection. Web. 28 Nov. 2012.
God Hates Fags. God Hates Fags. GHF, 2012.Web. 27 Nov, 2012.
Jonsson, Patrik. “What recourse now to Westboro Baptist Church’s rude protests?” Christian Science Monitor. 3 Mar. 2011. 1Pg. Academic Search Complete. Web.28 Nov. 2012.
Richey, Warren. “Supreme Court: ‘hurtful speech’ of Westboro Baptist Church is protected.” Christian Science Monitor. 3 Mar. 2011. 1pg. Academic Search Complete. Web. 19 Nov. 2012.
The Anti-Defamation League. The Anti-Defamation League. ADL, 2012. Web. 19 Nov, 2012.
“The Preamble to The Bill of Rights.” Give me liberty. (N.p.) (n.d.) Web. 27 Nov, 2012.
Vogue, De Ariane. “Supreme Court OK’s Protests at Military Funeral.” ABCnews. 2011. Web. 19 Nov. 2012.
Vogue, De Ariane. “Westboro Baptist Church Comes to the Supreme Court.” ABCnews. 2010. Web. 19 Nov. 2012.
Williams, Patricia. “License And Liberty.” Nation 292.13 (2011): 9. Legal Collection. Web. 28 Nov. 2012.