Westboro “Baptist”: The Right Way, the Wrong Way, and the American Way
I’m a firm believer that if you lay things out for people and get enough minds on the problem, people will fight their way out of mental boxes and create answers that awe and inspire. The repellent problem of the Westboro “Baptist” “Church” protesters (hereinafter the WBC protesters, so I don’t have to waste valuable time on repetitive but necessary scare quotes) presents just such a situation.
Everyone knows what these WBCers do. I’m not sure everyone knows the extent of what they do: most Americans probably know about their habit of bringing children to carry “God hates f*gs” signs at military funerals, on the theory that God rejoices in our soldiers’ deaths because we tolerate homosexuals. Fewer people may be aware that they also protest the funerals of gay people and AIDS victims, as well as protesting at Holocaust museums and memorials, college campuses, and public schools.
In the case now being heard by the Supreme Court, the Westboro group was sued by the Snyder family for WBC’s offensive shenanigans at the funeral of Lance Corporal Matthew Snyder, USMC, in 2006. Congress passed the Respect for America’s Fallen Heroes Act in May of 2006 to restrict protest activities at national cemeteries during graveside rites (Ron Paul, Barney Frank, and David Wu of Oregon voted against it in the House); but the Act doesn’t affect what Westboro can do at other cemeteries, or at the churches where services are typically held.
The “right way” in this situation is blindingly clear. It’s wrong for WBC to inflict its despicable, intensely un-Christian political message on grieving families. What would be right would be if this stopped: if WBC never protested at another funeral again. Objectively, WBC is doing an awful thing that no bereaved family should have to endure.
The “wrong way” is equally clear. Although the federal government has the authority to set restrictive rules for federal installations like the national cemeteries, it would be an unacceptable intrusion on freedom of speech, for the Supreme Court to find that WBC doesn’t have the same right as other groups to protest in other venues. Outside the uniquely privileged precincts of a federal reserve, trying to bound speech just narrowly enough to protect bereaved families is a fool’s errand. The Supreme Court deciding for the plaintiff in this case would amount to strapping on the blades and heading down the slippery slope.
But then there’s the American way. And pay attention here: the marvelous thing about this is that it’s what a bunch of Americans came up with because there was a problem, and demanding that the government step in and referee it for them was clearly the wrong thing to do. Most readers probably know I’m building up to the Patriot Guard Riders, the group of motorcycle riders who volunteer to show up at military funerals – at the families’ request – and create a cordon of honor sequestering the family and the honored deceased from the WBC protesters.
I urge everyone to watch the video at this link. There are other videos of the Patriot Guard online, but this one is by far my favorite because of the narrator and his priceless accent. He is of a piece with the glimpse we get of the Patriot Guard: thoroughly, recognizably, inspiringly American. Listen to his pride in what the Patriot Guard does. Watch the Guard raise a sea of American flags to hide the protesters and encourage the family. Watch the riders act as an escort for the funeral procession. Look at the Guardsmen; look at the whole scene.
And think about this. If you have ever served in the military, I think you will feel as I do. These are the people I would want at my funeral. This is America – these are Americans – coming together to show honor and support for their fellows in arms. It is very fitting that the riders, many of them veterans themselves, are there in their civilian clothes – because we are a citizen soldiery, and when our service is done, we return to the land. We return to the streets of our work, our childhoods, our families, our lives. The whole point of the fight is to have and keep this America; and being honored by it, in all its homely extraordinariness, is the best final earthly embrace the fighting man or woman can hope for.
When the Patriot Guard shows up for your funeral, it’s America showing up at your door to say “Thank you,” to say “Well done,” and to say, “Is there anything you need?” I have known my share of bereaved military families, and to a one, I think they would appreciate and be encouraged by the Patriot Guard, even if there were no WBC to taunt them in their darkest hour. The Patriot Guard and its supporters have done what free Americans always do, something noticed and remarked on by de Tocqueville more than a century and a half ago: they have reached out through a volunteer effort to address a community problem – and by doing so, they have spun, from straw and dross, pure gold.
Passing laws against what we don’t like never produces this result. The more we rely on outlawing what offends us, the less we have of initiative, inspiration, and blessing. These quantities can’t be ordered up like items on a menu, through taking measures to outlaw and punish things. If repulsive protest speech were somehow outlawed at funerals, we would have more to worry about in terms of our civil rights. Families would have silence at their funerals. But they wouldn’t have the Patriot Guard Riders.
Cross-posted at Hot Air.