Thursday, November 1, 2007

God Hates Phelps

Fred Phelps, the pastor of the Westboro Baptist Church, follows a theology that characterizes every tragedy befalling human persons as God's punishment for our immorality. Hurricane Katrina, the recent wildfires in California, and the deaths of American Soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan are all proof of God's displeasure with the United States, principally our toleration of homosexuality.

How then will Phelps interpret the recent 10.9 million judgment against himself and two of his church members (both also his daughters). What is God trying to tell Fred Phelps by making him suffer so? The father of a marine killed in Iraq whose funeral was "protested" by Phelp's church was awarded on Wednesday 2.9 million in compensatory damages, 6 million in punitive damages, and 2 million for emotional distress.

Although it's hard to weep at Fred Phelps and his followers recieving a well deserved rebuke for their hate-mongering, I remain concerned that their first amendment rights in this case are being trampled to the eventual peril of us all. Although there are many legitimate restrictions on free speech, speech which is merely offensive (such as that which causes "emotional distress") should be protected in the interest of the free debate and dissension necessary for a democracy.

BTW. The actual response from the Westboro Baptist church to the judgment against them, featured on their website, is to praise God for helping them spread their message through the press coverage. "Not only did you [sinful America] fail to stop our preaching, but our message has gone forth to the ENTIRE WORLD on this day, because of your folly, like never before! Thank God for the $10.9 Million Verdict!" Of course this interpretation exactly contradicts themselves "God's judgement on others proves we're right! God's Judgement on us also proves we're right!" And if the court case had gone againt the marine's father and in favor of the church it would have generated just as much publicity.


Joel Monka said...

This has nothing whatsoever to do with the first amendment. A funeral is a private function. Their right to speak is not being infringed, only their "right" to intrude- it's analogous to claiming the first amendment gives me the right to break into your house and speak to you during dinner.

Rev. Ricky said...

it depends on whether the protest took place on public or private ground. I haven't found a description of the circumstances of this case, but I have seen news coverage of Phelp's group protesting at previous military funerals and they were always standing on sidewalks. A sidewalk would be a free speech zone even if the funeral were happening just over the cemetary fence.

Joel Monka said...

Even if they were on the sidewalk, that doesn't give them the right to disrupt a private function. The courts have upheld laws forcing abortion protesters to keep a certain distance from the clinic.

Rev. Ricky said...

Abortion protesters can not go into the clinic but they can stand outside. In 1989 ACT UP protesters went too far when they took their protest against the Catholic church's condom policy inside St. Patrick's and disrupted a mass. But it is our American right to protest private events, as long as we hold our protest in a public place. Again, it would be helpful if I actually knew the circumstances of the particular protest in question here. And this jury did agree with you that the Phelps clan crossed the line here. But we should not accept limits to our free speech lightly. And I'll be curious to see the outcome of the appeal.