The Westboro Baptist Church is planning to picket the Elizabeth Edwards funeral. Elizabeth Edwards, the estranged wife of politician and former personal injury lawyer John Edwards, died recently after a six-year battle with cancer.
The Westboro Baptist Church, whose 70-strong membership appears to consist of the relatives of its founder, Fred Phelps, has become notorious for conducting protests at the funerals of fallen soldiers. The members of the Westboro Baptist Church seem to believe that God hates just about everybody, apparently including Edwards, primarily for tolerance for gay people and for abortion.
Of course, ironically, the Westboro people have found a target that fits their particular obsessions. Elizabeth Edwards was a champion of gay rights and of a woman’s right to choose to have an abortion. That is something of a distinction from the fallen soldiers whose memory they usually choose to besmirch with their signs, their yelling, and their presence.
Even so, the planned protest at the funeral once again places in stark relief that conflict between the right to free speech and the right for grieving families not to be subjected to hate speech.
Recently, the Supreme Court heard arguments in a case involving the Westboro Baptist Church and the father, Albert Snyder, of a fallen solder who is demanding $5 million from the Church for emotional distress and invasion of privacy by church members at the funeral of his son. The Court is deliberating on the case and is expected to hand down a decision sometime next year.
The one thing that can be safely said is the desire of the Westboro Baptist Church for publicity and their capacity to be obnoxious to get it are both infinite. They are driven by blind hate, a pathetic desire for fame, and a somewhat flagrant misunderstanding of the teachings of Christianity.
One wonders, at times, if there is a way to make the Westboro Baptist Church go away without doing violence to the First Amendment. Unless the Supreme Court finds somewhat to do that, families of the dead who are unlucky enough to attract the attention of the Church are going to have to endure in silence.
Mind, some groups have managed to conduct counter-protests, including the one done by science fiction fans at a recent Comic Con in San Diego. Various of these counter-protests have proved very successful at turning out people who are eager to answer the hate-filled message of the Westboro Baptist Church. But the Church has not been deterred in continuing their own pestering of the bereaved.
Sources: Edwards funeral to be picketed by controversial church, MSNBC, December 9th, 2010
Supreme Court Hears Arguments in Snyder vs. Phelps, Mark R. Whittington, Associated Content, October 7th, 2010
Westboro Gay Haters Picket Comic Con in San Diego, Mark R. Whittington, Associated Content, July 24th, 2010