The Reverend Fred Phelps, who leads the Topeka based cult known as the "Westboro Baptist Church" has placed his flock into the public eye through their hate-filled protests at funerals of American Servicemen who have been killed in the line of duty. At these protests, Phelps and his flock, including small children wave placards saying such things as saying "You're going to hell" and "God hates you".
It is a group whose theology seems to revolve around the premise that America, through the death of it’s soldiers, is reaping God’s wrath for the tolerance of homosexuals. In reality however, it is much more likely that the sect has grown addicted to the media attention it has received and it’s escalation of outrageous stunts is reflective of extreme narcissism, than any kind of reverence for the Bible.
Now it appears that the Church has gone too far and has angered the wrong family.
Marine Lance Corporal Matthew Snyder was killed in Iraq in March of 2006, and true to form, members of Phelp’s cult showed up to the funeral in Maryland with their signs and children in tow.
However, instead of just ignoring Phelps and his band of hate-addicts, Snyder’s father took the group to court arguing that the sect had violated the privacy of the dead man’s family and purposely inflicted emotional distress. The Church, for it’s part, cited their First Amendment Rights by asserting that their speech, offensive as it may be, was constitutionally protected.
In a precedent setting ruling, the federal jury found that the Church and three of its main members had in fact invaded the dead soldier’s family and had indeed inflicted emotional distress. The jury ruled that the cult must pay the family over 10 million dollars, which if the verdict sticks, should mean the end of the cult.
The point being made is that you are free to say what you want, but that speech that goes beyond the pale you may have to deal with the consequences of the things you say.
This case has attracted world-wide attention as it raised questions about just how far expression can go in one of the first nations in the world to truly enshrine the right to do so.
And while the case has been compared to a previous one against a white supremacist group which similarly ended in a huge monetary settlement, it is not an apt comparison due to the fact that the racist group had been found to instigate violence and even murder. The Westboro Baptist Church, for all of it’s venom and seething hatred has not been accused of inciting actual violence. This fact only makes the case that much more compelling.
In my view, speech and the expression of views, especially political or social views, have been paid for by the blood of patriots. And the repression of speech, even speech as horrid and repugnant, and aimed at the patriots who are giving life and limb so that we and people in other countries can say what we wish.
Certainly, we have many rights in this country, but I don’t think the right not to be offended is one of them. I find it troubling that we live in a time where the utterance of one wrong word can mean the end of one’s livelihood. So too, is it disturbing that there are places in Europe, the "free world", where having the improper view of the holocaust can land you in jail.
It seems that protecting people’s feelings may be starting to get in the way of protecting people’s rights.
However, with all of that said, I think the jury was correct in their ruling. And while this case will wind it’s way through years of appeals that may very well end up with it being overturned, I very much hope that it sticks and that the cult that spawned this painful situation be relegated permanently to the dustbin of history.
I say this as someone who traffics in ideas and who himself has been censored by those who find my views objectionable, so I do not take this position lightly
Had the Westboro Baptist Church spewed their hatred from their own pulpit, or from street corners, or through the internet and not sought out to verbally desecrate funerals and torture grieving families, my view may well be different.
But with any "right", there are responsibilities and if these cult members want to cause suffering upon grieving family members with what amounts to pointless and nihilistic barbarism, than I think it that families responsibility to hold such groups accountable for their actions.
For me, the similarities between MOVE and the Westboro Baptist Church
are too stark to ignore. Both groups are virulently homophobic, however MOVE, because it courts the political left keeps their hatred deep down. Both groups are made up mostly of a few extended families whose hatred for this country is un-imaginable for those who have not experienced it first hand.
Another trait that both groups share, in addition to being clear-cut, authoritarian cults, is their use of children in spreading their "message
Recently, while on a road-trip I was listening to a Philadelphia talk-show host discussing this case and espousing his view that some kind of governmental entity need to look into the welfare of these children, and if necessary remove these children from the care of their parents.
As someone who had a child "in MOVE", and who observed up-close how these children are treated in the group, I must strenuously argue that if the Westboro Baptist Church needs to have their parenting skills put under a microscope, than MOVE needs to also be in that line, if not at the front of it.
For MOVE, bringing small children, including babies, to profanity laden protests is just the tip of the iceberg. What is truly horrendous with regards to MOVE and the children in their "care" is not so much what happens on the outside, in plain view, but what happens behind closed doors.
I have already chronicled Ramona Africa’s admission that sex and pregnancy for girls in the cult begins at puberty. Which the last time I checked, even in this politically correct world still constitutes rape. I have also written extensively as to the psychological terrorism that is inflicted upon the life of the minds of these children from the age that they are able to concave of a thought.
Than there is the terrible lie about the children in MOVE being "home-schooled". Now it is possible that since I left the group in 2004 that they have began to educate their children. However, I have heard no evidence of this and after seeing a video of the "MOVE children" speaking or rather stumbling through their homage to John Africa back in May, I am thinking the educational situation in MOVE is as non-existent as it was when I was with the group.
Picture the scene of girls, as young as 12, sitting around, with their own children playing about huddled around a Dr. Suess book, unable to read it all the way through. That was the MOVE that I left.
I also left the group that waged a war against the family of John Gilbride. Instead of just one protest and one day of "infliction of emotional distress", MOVE stretched their campaign of terror against the Gilbrides for years, and did not end with the death of John Gilbride. It was the most vicious and cruel rhetorical attack that one could possibly imagine.
One can hope that with this precedent setting case ending with the defeat of the Westboro Baptist Church that MOVE could be next.
MOVE needs to be sued into oblivion.
Their children need to be in a safe place, properly educated, free from sexual abuse, and allowed to flourish in an intellectually nurturing environment, that respects their needs and wants as individuals. A place where they are not regarded as property by the cult’s leadership.
Does MOVE have $10 million?
Perhaps it is time to find out how much they have and how to get those funds to the victims of the cult and to make sure the children born to the cult are free and safe.
If you are an attorney and can provide insight into this issue or are interested in seriously pursuing action against this group email me at firstname.lastname@example.org