Ever since I stepped foot at The University of Montana, I have seen my fair share of the “doom and gloom” type preachers who crawl onto campus with their message of hate. A few times each year they randomly show up on a sunny day, pick a spot on a heavily trafficked area of campus, plug in their cheap P.A. system, and condemn everyone to Hell.
Just the way these crazy people like it, they always attract a large crowd of college students who are appalled at the anti-diversity/anti-gay/anti-anything-different-from-them message that they spew. I have watched as these preachers engage the enraged crowd in debate, citing out of context bible verses and dismissing any type of message that has to do with love and compassion. These guys are losers and I cringe every time I see them set up shop on campus but I do support their first amendment right of freedom of speech.
Fact is, I get irritated by a lot of garbage that people say. This includes the guy who unmercifully rips a student-athlete on a message board. Or the person who calls in to a radio show and brings up wild conspiracy theories. Or the extreme talking heads on cable news that don’t care about the actual facts and just want to be loud. Or the racist who pushes his propaganda to no end. Or the person who uses fear (before the point of a threat) to scare and control others. I despise this all but in the back of my head I know it is their first amendment right and a guiding principle that this nation was founded on.
So while I can get past most of the crap that is the byproduct of a gift so important and valuable as freedom of speech, there is something covered by it that is so ugly that I will never be able to accept it. Most of you have heard of the Westboro Church. Headquartered in Topeka, Kansas, you will not find a more hateful group of people in the country. They call themselves Baptist but let’s be honest here, they are about as closely aligned with the Baptist way of life as Babe Ruth was aligned with a healthy way of life. They hate Catholics, they hate Jews, they hate Muslims, they hate homosexuals, they hate blacks, and they hate everyone else who does not belong to their 50 person “strong” congregation.
Okay fine, why should I be so concerned with a small group of demented people down in Kansas? Why not just let them cast out their pathetic message amongst themselves and forget about them? Well, they let their presence be known in a way that makes that impossible. For around 20 years now, the “church” (I use the term very loosely) has picketed funerals. Wait, what do you mean by that? I mean they travel across the country to funerals of people they have no association with and stand outside the church services and graveside ceremonies and condemn the deceased and their families. They hold up derogatory signs, start hateful chants, and disrespect the dead in a way that will overwhelm anyone with sadness and anger. But it gets worse. Westboro Church does not picket the funeral of murderers and child molesters. Rather, they go to the funerals of U.S. soldiers killed in action, kids who suffered death in tragedies, and gay men and women who were victims of violent hate crimes.
The point that I finally said enough is enough and just threw my hands up in the air in frustration and helplessness was last week when Westboro announced that they would attend and picket the funeral service of Krystle Campbell, one of the three people who was killed in the Boston Marathon bombings. At a point when our country was hurting from an act so random and so disgusting I could not bring myself to care one bit about the shallow first amendment rights of this hate group. To try to disrupt the memorial service of a woman who by all accounts touched so many people and then had her life savagely robbed from her in a split second made me throw up a little in my mouth. First amendment be damned, this was wrong.
Westboro claims to picket at these funerals to let everyone know that these deaths are the wrath of God. They say that God is exacting revenge on the United States. Never mind that the U.S. is giving them the right to protest in such a distasteful way in the first place, these people are too stupid and ignorant to realize that. They instead say that the country is too morally corrupt, too accommodating to gay rights. Holding up signs that say “God hates faggots”, “Thank God for IED’s”, “Rot in Hell”, “Thank God for 9/11”, “God is angry every day”, and other despicable slogans and images these people terrorize both the living and the dead during very sad and emotional times.
I couldn’t imagine losing a family member suddenly because of a senseless violent act or a natural disaster and then going through the gut wrenching process of grieving and planning a funeral. That in itself is something that I wouldn’t wish upon anyone. But after all that, how completely unfair and sickening is it that they then have to worry about some insane people showing up to their loved one’s service to glorify God for their death and announcing that their soul is now in Hell? How could a grieving person continue? How could anyone possibly accept that?
Like I said, I cherish the first amendment for the most part but I can’t get past what the Westboro Church is able to do under the disguise of it. Yes, the amendment is there so everyone can express themselves, even if they want to express themselves with hate. But there has to be a point where we disallow the freedom of speech to dishonor, condemn, and torture the innocent…especially during their most sad and vulnerable hour.
Today was Krystle Campbell’s funeral. Boston was hell-bent on not letting Westboro disgrace Krystle’s final hour. Hundreds of union members from Teamsters Local 25 showed up to form a human shield between the church and the bigots from Westboro Church. But guess what? After all the talk, all the Tweets, and all the threats, Westboro did not have any representation at the funeral. The cowards never showed…not a single one. Try to tell me that wasn’t a sign from God. Don’t Blink.