Most have forgotten about a blight upon all that’s holy, a group that was the embodiment of offensiveness that it sorely tested our mettle, our dedication to civil liberties, because there was no good person who wouldn’t rather smack the crap out of them than support their right to free speech. You guessed it, the Westboro Baptist Church.
The Supreme Court opinion these stains-upon-humanity birthed, Snyder v. Phelps, was an important one. And that sums up the total social utility of Westboro Baptist Church’s existence. So naturally, seeing a slight tear in the fabric of society which, if rent, could give notoriety to the group’s existence, they’re going for it.
A representative for the fundamentalist Westboro Baptist Church told USA TODAY that its members plan to picket Saturday outside the funeral for two of the victims of last Sunday’s shooting massacre at a gay nightclub in Orlando.
“It’s not about that person, it’s about that whole societal phenomenon,” Westboro spokesman Steve Drain of Topeka, Kan., said Thursday night in a telephone interview. “It’s never been OK to be gay and it’s never going to be OK to be gay, no matter how much the spirit of the times calls for the popularity of that sin.”
Given the confluence of heated rhetoric, open wounds, sensitivity (due and undue) and the quest for outrage, this has the makings of a fiasco. A comparison was made between the misguided rationalizations for undermining the Second Amendment by subtracting by one. The satirical use may well prove unexpectedly prescient, now that the Phelpses have found a way to use the funerals of the Orlando massacre victims to their advantage.
While the term “hate speech” defies definition, let’s pretend that we can all agree that what Westboro Baptist Church plans will fall within its ambit. Contrary to clueless and intellectual liars, it not only is free speech, but it’s fully protected speech under the First Amendment. Whether it’s due process, or the right to keep and bear arms, or the right to free speech, there will be a passionate emotional appeal to eliminate the right if this is what it brings.
Someone will likely mention “suicide pact,” one of Justice Robert Jackson’s brilliant but malleable quotes, easily adopted from the destruction of a nation to any right under any circumstance that produces undesirable outcomes. Someone else will raise a facially false compare and contrast contention of constitutional rights that relies on complete substantive ignorance. Those who will seize upon anything that supports their goals will embrace such arguments, because they can’t bear the existence of rights that conflict with their desires.
When Westboro Baptist Church shows up to protest homosexuality, because they’re a bunch of nutjobs desperately seeking attention and relevance in a world that has already passed well beyond them, will they be given what they want?
In the letter dated June 16, lawyer Rebekah Phelps-Davis wrote that Westboro members are “law-abiding and nonviolent” and requested that police “fulfill their duty to take responsible steps to keep the peace.” They also requested information on permits that are required.
About six members will take part in Saturday’s protest, Drain said.
A representative for the GLBT Community Center of Central Florida told the Orlando Sentinel that Westboro members can expect some pushback.
On a silver platter. The funerals of the victims of this tragedy should be about the human beings whose lives were stolen from them. Phelps-Davis hopes to make it about Westboro Baptist Church, to bring her small group back onto the front pages, to get their protest picture above the fold instead of an image of those whose lives were lost.
And the fighters for a cause respond that they will accommodate Phelps. Expect some pushback? That’s all they want. Hate them. Fight them. Make them relevant. Raise their profile to a level where their crazy cries are heard above the eulogy. And then let loose the dogs on the right that allows these miscreants to spew their hatred.
The organization has obtained a protest permit to cushion the families of the two victims to be memorialized Saturday, Terry DeCarlo, executive director of the center, told the news organization. “We’ll make sure they are not heard,” he told the Sentinel.
There is no “mak[ing] sure they are not heard” that doesn’t make them heard at the same time. And while the substance of the spew may be very different, this effort by Westboro Baptist Church to seize the soapbox for its own purposes isn’t much different than the Mizzou student who hijacked a vigil for the Orlando victims to make it all about her feelings. Wherever there’s a spotlight, there will be attention seekers trying to bask in its warm glow.
The Westboro Baptist Church is every bit as entitled to spew its garbage as the young lady in Missouri and those who fought for recognition of gay marriage, and those who fight for whatever issue is meaningful to them. Shut up the Phelpses and you shut up your allies, yourself. But that doesn’t mean they have to be heard.
Their speech is only relevant to the extent you allow it to be. Someone calls you a name and you ignore it, it disappears in the wind. Someone calls you a name and you scream at them that they are haters, that becomes the focus. Someone calls you a name and you punch them in the nose, you are now at fault and have validated their speech.
The choice of what to acknowledge, what to care about, is entirely up to you. A handful of nutjobs want to march in a circle with stupid placards, yelling ridiculous things, a block or two away from a place where something that matters is happening? No one will care if you don’t. Let them march. Let them scream. Let them carry their signs. They are invisible unless you choose to see them.