Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Time to put the haters in their place

Today, the Supreme Court will hear the case of Albert Snyder vs. Fred Phelps, the controversial pastor of Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas. At issue is whether or not Phelps' now-infamous protests at military funerals, including the one for Snyder's son, Matthew, fall under First Amendment guidelines protecting freedom of speech.

Phelps and his congregation have made headlines for their extremist, anti-gay views, claiming that God is punishing America for its tolerance of gays & lesbians. No, He's not. Matthew Snyder died serving his country, and, as his father alleges, Phelps and his group tarnished the funeral with their presence.

Marge Phelps, daughter of the pastor and lawyer for the church, has argued that the only way Albert Snyder even knew they were at the funeral was from reading news accounts. Albert Snyder is claiming that the Westboro congregation intentionally inflicted emotional stress. Who's right and who's wrong is now up to the Supreme Court to decide.

However, the actions of the Westboro congregation have been shameful, disrespectful, and irresponsible. Fred Phelps has come across as being irrational in his hatred of gays & lesbians. Nearly 35 years ago, Anita Bryant publicly railed against gays & lesbians, giving up an endorsement deal to do commercials for Florida orange juice, but she never went so far as to attend a total stranger's funeral to force her views on anyone else. Fred Phelps has crossed too many lines in trying to impose his viewpoint on others, and while some analysts believe that Phelps will get the benefit of the doubt, it will be the wrong decision.

A funeral is a solemn occasion. A crackpot with an axe to grind has no business being anywhere near it for any reason whatsoever. Phelps' habit of holding protests at military funerals, such as the one for Matthew Snyder, ruins the sanctity of the occasion, and it needs to be stopped. If Phelps wins, it's a win for anti-gay groups because they'll be given license to copy Phelps' tactics, only instead they'd probably trespass onto the cemetery just to get on the news. This is a case where the First Amendment cannot be used to justify the actions of a hate-mongering group that already is smearing the Bible's teachings with their rhetoric.

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