Thursday, November 1, 2007

Follow-up on the Intoleration of Intolerance

A few weeks back I blogged about the charming little hate group called the Westboro Baptist Church from Kansas coming to my little town to protest. They were met by the UNwelcome wagon. I'm only sorry that tar and feathers weren't available. Well, there's some new information about these lovely folks.

In March 2006 Albert Snyder experienced the pain of attending the military funeral of his son, Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder. One would not think that attending the funeral of one of your children could possibly be made any worse. Unfortunately Mr. Snyder and his family learned it could. Also in attendance at that funeral were the looneys from the Westboro Baptist Church, complete with their trademark "Thank God for Dead Soldiers" signs and "God Hates Fags" tee shirts.

At some point after the funeral Mr. Snyder sued the so-called church and yesterday in federal court the verdict was announced. Mr. Snyder was awarded $11 million. $2.9 million was awarded in compensatory damages. Before the jury deliberated the amount of punitive damages the judge informed the jury that the compensatory damages award "far exceeds the net worth of the defendants". The jury came back with $6 million in punitive damages for invasion of privacy and $2 million for causing emotional distress. Hello! Can you say MESSAGE? CAN YOU HEAR ME NOW!!! There's serious doubt that Mr. Snyder will ever be able to collect his award but that's not the point. Here's hoping that every other family that's ever been assaulted by these dark hearts files a lawsuit too. Here's hoping that this case and every other one filed keeps these vermin tied up with legal fees to the point that they can't afford poster board and crayons for their signs or the gas needed to drive someplace to use them.

The "church" of course vowed to appeal based on their First Amendment rights to free speech and religion. I am absolutely NOT against free speech or freedom of religion. I have literally taken an oath to "protect and defend the Constitution of the United States" and I take it seriously. Much more seriously than our president does. However, the freedoms guaranteed under the Constitution apply to EVERYONE. This group does have rights but they do not include using their right to free speech to cram their religion down the throat of anyone else . At the risk of sounding like Peter Parker's uncle Ben, I believe that with great freedoms come great responsibility. Some things are just wrong and when people cross the line they need to be called on it.

My wife and I tried to raise our children using the "do unto others as you would have them do unto you" approach. It's not an infallible system but it's a pretty good starting point and guideline. We didn't beat them over the head with a holy book or threaten them with a boogieman either in the sky or in the underworld. They know right from wrong and have grown into girls that we are very proud of. I mention this because, while I take some degree of satisfaction and feel some hope in seeing this jury verdict, ultimately I'm concerned and frightened. Why? Check out the picture that accompanies the linked article. The one of the ten and thirteen year old Westboro Baptist church members (children of the "church" founder) holding the protest signs. The one of the kids who experience hatred as a way of life. I shudder at the virulence of what they've been taught and of what they in turn might teach.

It brings to mind the lyrics to Rodgers & Hammerstein's "You've Got to be Carefully Taught" from South Pacific:

You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear,
You’ve got to be taught from year to year,
It’s got to be drummed in your dear little ear—
You’ve got to be carefully taught

You’ve got to be taught to be afraid
Of people whose eyes are oddly made,
And people whose skin is a different shade—
You’ve got to be carefully taught.

You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late—
Before you are six or seven or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate—
You’ve got to be carefully taught!
You’ve got to be carefully taught!


moooooog35 said...

Nothing funny here today. I was OVERJOYED when I heard that those pompous, overzealous Westboro bastards got their shit handed to them.

The problem is, they'll never have to pay...or they never will.

Poetic justice would be that they confiscate their church, and turn it into a shelter for gay veterans of the war.

Bruce, a work in progress said...

No, sorry, nothing funny today. You never know what you'll find here. Sometimes I have to rant.

I do love your idea for the use of their church.

Tequila Mockingbird said...

i think instead of suing, the father of the dead soldier should've went cavemen on the Westboro assholes and beat them to death with a baseball bat. no jury would've convicted him, and he could've said he was blinded by rage. it would be a sure-fire way to prevent those douchebags of dinosauric proportions showing up at other funerals with that horseshit.

Bruce, a work in progress said...

TM, that's one approach.

Colonel Colonel said...

The Fred Phelps people (he's their leader) are a bunch of venomous cretins, but I'm a bit uneasy at suing anyone over speech rights. I dunno, seems like the thin end of the wedge.

A few years ago, when we lived in Cambridge, we went to the midnight celebration at city hall when gay people were first allowed to get married. There were about a dozen Westboro'rs there with signs that said things like "Thank God for 9-11". Maybe warping your brain like that is punishment enough for them.

Bruce, a work in progress said...

I know what you're saying Col. It's one that I wrestle with as well. It's definitely a slippery slope and I'm not sure there's a clear-cut answer. Maybe the afterlife is whatever anybody believed it would be when they were alive, in which case they'll get the brutal, hateful, angry God who will give them what they deserve.

Anonymous said...

Did you go to the website the girl has so proudly displayed on her shirt? If not, you need to.

What a joke!

Bruce, a work in progress said...

Prepon, I started to the last time this came up then thought better of it. I didn't feel up to rinsing my eyes out with bleach after looking at it.

Colonel Colonel said...

Here's my thought- yes, these people are scum, but scum have free speech rights too. Cemeteries (both public and private) have rules- let them not allow protests within their confines. That's fine. That is the solution you need. Let the protestors stand outside. But outside, on the sidewalk, if they have a permit, I gotta say, they are within their rights to be assholes.

When they say freedom of speech isn't free, I think this is sort of what they mean. God knows, I've spent my time making fun of the Fred Phelphsters, but I am troubled that they have been fined for apparently doing what anyone with a much less strident message can do where they did it. If that is indeed the case, then, well, I think it's wrong. Sign me up to go and spit on them, but that's as far as I'm willing to go.

It's too bad there are despicable people like that around. Too bad for all of us.

Bruce, a work in progress said...

I can't say I disagree with you Col. I guess I just get a certain amount of satisfaction in seeing them hit hard. Maybe because it's not just news. They've actually come to my town and I do know people who were affected by them at funerals of relatives. But you're definitely right about the danger of the thin wedge. For a while there were motorcycle clubs and Viet Nam vets showing up partly to counter protest but mainly to act as barriers to keep them far away from the service and the families.
Thank you for the dialogue. I appreciate hearing your opinions.

Biscuit said...

I like your rant, and agree with every word. I just don't get people who are so insecure that they need everyone to be exactly like them for all to be right in their world.

Bruce, a work in progress said...

Thanks Biscuit. I appreciate you coming by.