Saturday, March 26, 2011

Westboro is the worst

The freedom of speech guaranteed us by the first amendment is precious, and we should never take it for granted. In many ways, it is probably the most unique freedom we enjoy in America.

After all, Americans have opinions and are often not shy about expressing them. This freedom provides us a forum to have thoughtful and meaningful discussions about important topics.

It also allows people to blow off steam and state points of view that are not well informed. While this can be frustrating, it comes with the territory in a country that cherishes free speech.

However, the worst situations come when people do actions or say words that are so offensive that it is difficult to control our emotions. An example of a situation like this involves the antics of the Westboro Baptist Church based in Topeka, Kan.

Led by Fred Phelps, the group has gained notoriety in recent years by how it protests what is going on in the world as it applies to religion. Specifically, it has protested at the funerals of soldiers killed serving our country in the Iraqi and Afghanistan wars.

Standing outside the services, the protesters hold signs that say 'Thank God for dead soldiers' and similar messages.

I think most people find these protests offensive both in tone and timing. My goodness, how can anybody believe that protesting at the funeral of a soldier is appropriate? Attacking people when they are grieving is about as low as it gets.

Phelps' group justifies its actions by stating that these deaths are a result of God's judgment against America for the moral decay our country is experiencing. While I do not believe anybody would disagree that moral decay is going on in our country, the Phelps' group clearly is incorrect in how it expresses itself and many of its ideas are just plain wrong.

The church has not limited its protests to soldiers, but also has targeted other Christians, Jews, and homosexuals. For a fairly small group, they get around.

For most Christians, this church is a great source of frustration. After all, most people just generically lump people of this faith into one category. Therefore, when a group acts like this, many blame all Christians for their behavior.

This is really unfortunate. Christianity is a beautiful faith, and beauty will always attract more people than the type of venom delivered by Phelps’ group. Unfortunately, the Westboro Baptist Church does not realize this and are truly driving people away from God.

Phelps has been taken to court in recent years about his group's tactics, and earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld his rights by an 8-1 vote in one of these cases.

The Court reaffirmed what most of us already know. Despite the offensiveness of the group’s actions, it does have the right to protest in this manner.

I hate to admit it, but groups like these do make our country stronger in some respects. As a nation, if we can continue to function despite the counter-productive actions of these people, then I believe that makes our country better.

Do not get me wrong. If I came across this group protesting at a soldier's funeral, I would have to resist the strong urge to punch them all in the mouth. I do not like their approach and what they are doing.

I guess the best approach to this is to remember that the first amendment is a two-way street. Just as that group has the right to protest, we also have the right to oppose them and point them out for who they really are.

Remember, tolerance goes both ways. The Westboro Baptist Church would do well to remember that.

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