What are we to do with groups like the Westboro Baptist Church, which has been designated a hate group by both the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center, and who seem intent on testing the limits of free speech?
They’re an obvious choice. Look at their web address – their url. It’s not westborobaptistchurch.com, as you might expect, but godhatesfags.com. But at this point that may not surprise anyone. They’ve made themselves well known in recent years.
And God does not just hate fags, he apparently hates fag enablers. That covers a lot of ground, but never fear, there is plenty of hate to go around.
Where does one draw the line? And there have to be lines. There have to be limits. Certain things, for example, are terroristic threats.
Legal or no, hate has consequences. The other day a man drove by and sprayed mace on the Westboro protesters. He was arrested.
Nobody should be shocked. It’s a simple enough rule, Newton’s Third Law: To every action there is always an equal and opposite reaction.
People don’t want funerals to become sideshows. They don’t want Westboro people there and they don’t want counter-protesters. But if you protest or if you allow protests, you have to expect the opposite force to make its opinions known as well.
But my real question here is this: what if the next time a man in a pickup truck drives by, he is armed not with mace but with an assault rifle?
This seems like an extreme reaction to what some would say is a non-violent action, but we have to consider a couple of facts here in our deliberations. And one of these is that speech itself can be a form of violence.
There is a line between words and deeds. Hate speech straddles that divide and blurs those distinctions.
WBC claims (emphasis in the original), “WBC took her ministry to the streets, conducting 44,017 over 34,000 peaceful demonstrations (to date) opposing the fag lifestyle of soul-damning, nation-destroying filth.”
But are they peaceful? It’s not an easy call if hate speech blurs that line.
Another thing to consider is that the people having violence used against them are more likely to perceive the violence than the person directing it. And those are the people most likely to be engaging in the predicted opposite reaction.
A further complication is that extremist groups like the Westboro Baptist Church feel exempt from the normal rules of human conduct. For groups like this, the Bible takes precedence over the Constitution. We see this on a daily basis, where Christian groups feel their beliefs should be privileged on the basis that it is the True religion. It is a violation of their worldview to level the playing field.
“God wills it!” Is the cry, an excuse for every sort of atrocity. If God says so, then they have an obligation to carry out his will.
Of course, nowhere in the Bible – Old or New Testament – does it say to protest soldiers’ funerals or to carry signs saying “God hates fags” everywhere they go. One could argue that God can fight his own battles. We certainly have the examples of Sodom and Gomorrah to look back on. God has ultimate sanction on the acts of humans, if we are to believe the Bible. He hardly needs a ragged band of bigoted haters to work his will on the world.
But there is no crime for those who have Christ as one ancient monk put it. They believe they have righteousness on their side and so they can do anything and the rest of us be damned – and will be, according to their understanding.
It’s a win/win for groups like Westboro Baptist Church. They are trying to provoke a response. If they succeed, they are validating their own views. If they can force us to act like they say we act, then they can point their fingers and say that we have confirmed their suspicions.
And they, making a mockery of a soldier’s funeral, will play the martyrs.
What then, are our options?
Lady Gaga, recently confronted with protests by the church’s members, told her own flock to not respond: “Pay these hate criminals no mind. Do not interact with them, or try to fight, Do not respond to any of their provocation.”
You don’t have to be a fan of Lady Gaga to see that this was a clever move. This isn’t what they want, to be ignored. They want to make a splash, they want someone to hate. It’s hard to act out your hate on somebody who is ignoring you.
Using Facebook as her forum, Lady Gaga told her fans:
I would like to make my little monster fans aware of a protest being held outside the Monsterball in St.Louis tonight. Although we have had protesters before, as well as fundamentalists at the show, this group of protesters are hate criminals and preach using lewd and violent language and imagery that I wish I protect you all from. Their message is of hatred and divisiveness, but inside at the Monsterball we preach love and unity.
Lady Gaga is aware of the blurred line between language and violence. Her crime? The “proud whore Lady Gaga teaches rebellion against God.”
And here I thought she made music.
President Obama is equally guilty: “Keep your eye on this silly woman, as she and the Beast Obama are good examples of what you all love most about this vile nation.”
Another solution used recently was that of political satirist/comedian Dave Sirus (aka “Brick Stone”) who responded by harassing the harassers – through humor.
Brick Stone’s weapons were not mace, but words:
–If you hate gays, why are you holding the sign that way?
–If a woman dressed as a man has sex with a guy with a vagina, can they still get into heaven? Or, are they already there?
Wit-wielding Brick, unlike the mace-wielding driver, did not get arrested. A safer response and he managed to disturb the protesters enough that they left. Safer, and more effective than mace. And less a use of brute force than an assault rifle.
The folks at ComicCon used humor as well, in greeting the Westboro folks.
There were all the usual suspects there in San Diego, “robots, magical anime girls, Trekkies, Jedi and… kittens?” Their message to WBC?: ”What do we want? Gay sex. When do we want it? Now!”
Words are more powerful than bullets. But who knows if the next group will respond with silence, humor…or gunfire?
Hrafnkell Haraldsson, a social liberal with leanings toward centrist politics has degrees in history and philosophy. His interests include, besides history and philosophy, human rights issues, freedom of choice, religion, and the precarious dichotomy of freedom of speech and intolerance. He brings a slightly different perspective to his writing, being that he is neither a follower of an Abrahamic faith nor an atheist but a polytheist, a modern-day Heathen who follows the customs and traditions of his Norse ancestors. He maintains his own blog, A Heathen’s Day, which deals with Heathen and Pagan matters, and Mos Maiorum Foundation www.mosmaiorum.org, dedicated to ethnic religion. He has also contributed to NewsJunkiePost, GodsOwnParty and Pagan+Politics.