I have covered the Westboro Baptist Church before, suggesting that perhaps simply ignoring those hateful yokels is the way to beat them. For a time, it seemed as if the country took my advice. Absent from the news lately, either because even in the 24/7 news cycle people are tired of these stories or maybe because the media got wise to their scam, there have been very few news stories about this hate-group dressed in the guise of religion. However new laws passed recently that limit protestors at funerals could reinvigorate the way the WBC not only operates but earns their money.
WBC patriarch Fred Phelps has thirteen children, eleven of whom have law degrees. Essentially, the WBC will protest at funerals and other places where they are likely to gain media attention and if they are not allowed to protest will sue and often win. Like it or not, the protection of free speech does extend to hate-speech like that espoused by WBC.
The most recent law passed, The SERVE Act, sponsored by Reps. Charlie Bass (R-NH) and Jim Matheson (D-UT), does not allow protesting at funerals for two hours before and after. Also, protestors must be up to 300 feet away from the mourners. Surely, their legal team will begin to fight this law and when it is ruled unconstitutional, will sue all of the places where they were denied their right to “free speech.” Spokespeople for the ACLU, who are NOT suing the government to overturn this law, have said that even with its artful wording this law violates the First Amendment.
In January of 2011, filmmaker Kevin Smith was the focus of WBC protests as well. While still protesting military funerals, they have since branched out to events like Smith’s movie, Comic-con, and other places where they might grab media attention. Smith’s movie Red State depicted a much more violent and horrific version of the WBC, but when they descended on the theater, Smith and his fans launched their own counter-protest. Bearing signs such as “God Hates Press Screenings” and “Thor Hates Straights,” Smith and his fans made a mockery of the WBC.
To no one’s surprise, WBC announced their plans to protest the funerals of the victims of the theater-shooting in Aurora, CO. Locals their took a page from the book of the Patriot Guard Riders who shield veterans’ families from the protests with large flags and drown out the protestors with their own songs or by revving motorcycle engines. In Aurora, they formed a human wall, but WBC never showed. They did turn up in Columbia, MO to protest the funeral of US Army Spc. Sterling Wyatt, killed while serving in Afghanistan. Locals turned out wearing red shirts and formed a wall blocking the protestors from the family’s view.
When the WBC turned up in Seattle to protest outside of Fort Lewis, they were faced with another counter-protest. Since they were not protesting a funeral, the counter-protestors decided to have a little fun with them. Melissa Neace spread the idea on her facebook page and dozens of Washington residents dressed up as zombies, drawing media attention away from the WBC. This new law, well-intentioned though it may be, will most likely be found unconstitutional. Perhaps the best solution to the problem of the WBC is to leave them to the zombies.
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