Thursday, October 05, 2006

Yesterday, Brian at the Iowa Voice blog posted on more reprehensible tactics by the Westboro Baptist Church. According to news sources, they've graduated from being highly offensive to an off-the-charts and over-the-top repugnancy:
A Kansas-based group that says "God hates fags" plans to picket the funerals of the Amish girls killed by a disturbed man in Lancaster County, Pa.

The Westboro Baptist Church -- described as a hate group by the Anti-Defamation League -- has made a name for itself by picketing the funerals of U.S. troops killed in Iraq. The troops are dying as punishment for America's tolerance of homosexuality, the group says.

The Westboro group says the Amish school girls were "killed by a madman in punishment for Gov. Ed Rendell's blasphemous sins against Westboro Baptist Church.

"Gov. Ed Rendell -- speaking and acting in his official capacity to bind the State of Pennsylvania -- slandered and mocked and ridiculed and condemned Westboro Baptist Church on national Fox TV," the group says on its website.

"Rendell also revealed a conspiracy to employ the State's police powers to destroy WBC in order to silence WBC's Gospel message. Co-conspirators identified by Rendell included state officials, citizens, lawyers, legislators and media," the website says.

Westboro Baptist Church said it is "continuing to pray for even worse punishment upon Pennsylvania."

A number of states have passed laws to keep groups like Westboro away from grieving families at funerals, but last month, a federal judge ruled that a Kentucky law barring protests within 300 feet of military funerals and memorial services is too broad and may not be enforced.

The group eventually agreed to refrain from the protest, but only in exchange for radio air time:
The controversial anti-homosexual Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan., has canceled its plans to stage a protest at the funerals of the five Amish girls executed in their Pennsylvania school, a church official said Wednesday.

Shirley Phelps-Roper, the daughter of church's pastor, told the group canceled the protests in exchange for an hour of radio time Thursday on syndicated talk-show host Mike Gallagher's radio program.

Brian comments:
I can barely understand the defense of their freedom of speech when they go to protest military funerals, because they can claim that's political speech, and it's clearly protected. But going to protest a funeral like this, I don't see how anyone can make an excuse saying it's ok.

I predict we'll eventually see solid legislation against picketing funerals that is upheld by the Courts as a reasonable time, manner and place restriction. First, although the church's ranting is fairly labeled as hate speech, it's not the content but the method that is the most objected to in this context. Second, there are alternative channels that will allow potential picketers to get their message out even if this type of picketing is restricted. So unless the courts come up with something else, it should be just a matter of refining statute language to ensure the Courts don't see it as too broad. I just wish they'd move a bit faster. In the meantime, I hate the fact they've been given the airtime they want via this method of extortion. I wonder why any real churches out there aren't deciding to take up the cause of fighting this hate speech being spread in the name of their religion? I'd think it would be very effective to have a congregation devoted to showing up to these pickets in droves to outnumber the Westboro group and utterly diffuse the hate with a message of love. Just my opinion.

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