I’ve been aware for some time of the immoral and reprehensible behaviour of the Westboro Baptist Church. Amongst a plethora of other spiteful activities, they regularly picket funerals of dead soldiers and anyone else they think will gain them attention in order to spread their message of hate and vitriol. I even personally attracted the attention of one of their most senior ringleaders on a blog posting I made in January, something I commented about here.
I’ll go on the record here: I’m an atheist, and I’m gay, and that’s probably two very good reasons for the hate mongers at Westboro to dislike me, and for me to dislike them. I believe in equal rights for all people, yet from observing them, it seems they believe in vitriolic denigration of others and perhaps even revel in the suffering they cause. They certainly seem to whip themselves up into a frenzy of sanctimonious, self-righteous, self-serving and self-praising zeal.
But I don’t hate them. As I mentioned before, I’m over hate. I actually pity them, as much as is possible given their reprehensible actions. That they have become so twisted and pathetic as to stoop to the sorts of things they do isn’t reason to hate them. They strike me as pathetically sick individuals who have forgotten what it is to be human.
As far as I’m concerned, when I’m dead I’d be just as happy to be thrown in the bin and left out for garbage pick-up; once I’m gone that’s it. With the final breath the lights go out and I simply cease to exist, other than in memories people have of me and what I’ve contributed to the world. That might sound fatalistic to some, but to me it simply means that I should live my life for the now.
Despite that, I do understand the need for funerals. They should present closure to those left behind. It allows people to say a final farewell and start moving on with their lives in some way or another. And because this is what funerals are really about, what Westboro does is all the more despicable.
I therefore have the greatest admiration for Albert Snyder, who has been fighting a lawsuit against the hate mongers since they picketed the funeral of his son. You can find details of the case and the fight here at www.matthewsnyder.org. To quote the website:
The family of Lance Corporal Matthew Snyder, US Marine Corps, has begun this civil lawsuit* against Mr. Phelps and certain members of the so-called Westboro Baptist Church to bring an end to the reign of terror and abuse that they inflicted upon the grieving families of US service members killed in defense of our nation. Using innocent children to deliver their twisted message of hatred and fear, the defendants in this suit have sought to attack the memory of our departed heroes, to strip their loved ones of their dignity, and to use abuse and intimidation as a tool for preventing surviving family members from reaching closure over their loss.
*This is a private civil lawsuit that is separate from any actions being pursued by states or the federal government against Mr. Phelps. While those cases involve Government action and potential 1st Amendment issues, this case is distinct. This case simply alleges that one does not have the right to conspire to use lies in order to inflict intentional harm upon persons who are grieving the death of their children.
Some, including those within Westboro would insist that they’re allowed to do what they want under the US First Amendment – the right to “free speech”.
But there’s a higher authority than the US First Amendment. Not the higher authority those in Westboro imagine to exist, but the highest authority we humans can collectively aim for: the sense of what is right and wrong – what defines our humanity. Life and society is about balancing fundamental human rights with ensuring people don’t use those rights to secede from humanity.
What Westboro do is not right. Specifically in this instance, attacking (however “peacefully” they want to describe it) grieving family and friends in a time of great stress and sorrow is reprehensible. To be more accurate, it’s sick. It reveals a personal and collective failure in the moral compass of those individuals involved.
It leaves me sad for two reasons: sad that they would cause such hurt to others, and sad that they need to live their lives full of such bitter, unremitting hate. It must be terrible to be them.
To the people at Westboro Baptist who have lost their way and their humanity, I say only this: please get better soon, please rejoin the human race, and please apologise to those you have hurt so badly.