(See also the â€œGod is Hateâ€ post of January 31.)
Satanâ€™s favorite Christians, homophobe Fred Phelps and his rabid band of followers at Westboro Baptist Church, Topeka, Kansas, (mostly members of his own family), have for some time emotionally and psychologically harassed grieving families of dead soldiers at their funerals. They do so by holding signs saying, â€œGod Hates You,â€ â€œThank God for Dead Soldiers,â€ â€œThank God for IEDs,â€ â€œGod Hates Your Tears,â€ â€œFag Troops,â€ and many that are more offensive.
This happened at the funeral of Lance Corporal Matthew Snyder who was killed in combat in Iraq on March 3, 2006. Here the group also included a sign that said, â€œMatt in Hell.â€ It was never suggested that Snyder was gay, but Phelps claims he died because he fought for a country that condones homosexuality. He also said on his web site that Matthewâ€™s father â€œraised him for the devil.â€
Albert Snyder, Matthewâ€™s father, sued for invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The jury agreed, but this was later overturned by the 4th US Circuit Court of Appeal on the basis of the First Amendment, guaranteeing free speech. Now the matter is before the Supreme Court, and it is hoped that this court will find a way to do the decent thing.
It is unfortunate that basic human dignity and respect for intensely personal issues do not enter into considerations of free speech. But surely what Phelps and his minions have done is a gross violation of basic rights. They do have the right to express their views, however evil they may be, but oneâ€™s rights are limited when they intrude on someone elseâ€™s rights and privacy. Grief is a necessary step in restoring oneâ€™s self and oneâ€™s life; there is no question in my mind that in seeking to deny both the grief and the dignity of laying a loved one to rest, these hatemongers have intruded on the rights of the mourning family. It was not as if the family of Matthew Snyder could turn away. If someone wants to debase a funeral, the mourners are trapped, and the forces of evil are victorious.
If Phelps really wants to deal with the issue of homosexuality, he should look within himself. His extreme homophobia suggests that he is struggling to deal with strong homosexual urges of his own. Hopefully, the Supreme Court will rule to restore the judgment against him as well as the damages award that the original jury imposed, in effect curtailing his hate mongering. This will give him more time to examine his own deep motives.