Posted by: theoptimisticconservative | October 7, 2010

Westboro “Baptist”: The Right Way, the Wrong Way, and the American Way

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.


  1. This is very bullish for Harley Davidson.

  2. Good post! Thanks for getting to an aspect of this situation that most people probably don’t consider at first.

  3. good post.
    I particularly liked

    The more we rely on outlawing what offends us, the less we have of initiative, inspiration, and blessing.

    and hope that you consider those words in other contexts.

  4. Patriot Guard Riders rock!

    Seing that photo, I want to contract it with recent photos of Michelle Antoinette scowling “I hate it.”

    Do you think she’d hate it so much if she loved her country as much as those guys do?

  5. Do you suppose Barney Frank’s vote in opposition to that bill was for libertarian reasons?

    Barney is in trouble in case you non-MA residents hadn’t noticed. He could lose his election, which would be shocking to Bay State voters. I would consider his loss a victory for America (I blame him more than any other single person for the financial meltdown of 2008).

    I’m with you J.E., those PGRiders are the sorts of people who make you proud to be an American.

  6. (I blame him more than any other single person for the financial meltdown of 2008).

    I like to think that it was caused by Dorothy throwing a bucket of water, but if you think that you’re less daft than I, feel free to ‘splain.

  7. The same principles would apply to the Ground Zero Mosque, then, wouldn’t they? Rather than try and ban the mosque, turn it into a test case for Islam’s compatibility with modern democracy–keep a permanent contingent of protesters around it, reminding or informing passersby of the ambitions and actions carried out in the name of Islam, past and present. Keep the dialogue they say they want going.

  8. My blame of Barney for the meltdown is because of his unabashed support of the Community Reinvestment Act, his refusal to heed warnings about Fannie/Freddie and the foundation of sand on which they were perched and his proclivity to direct federal funds to certain banks based on the skin color of the owners rather than on merit. All this made easier by him being Chariman of the House Financial Services Commitee. These all being significant reasons causing the housing collapse, which is the main spark that caused the economy to collapse.

    I’m not suggesting that Barney Frank is to blame for most of the financial collapse (several people from both parties and from both the public and private world are to blame). I’m asserting my opinion that he deserves more blame than any single other person out there.

  9. RE — that was the report, that Frank — like Ron Paul — opposed the bill on libertarian grounds. I tend to be pretty libertarian about these things myself, but it’s hard to foresee any politically significant “speech” that would really NEED to take place at a national cemetery when families are burying their dead (the only situation that’s covered by the law). Seems like anything that needs to be communicated to the public could be said elsewhere, or outside the window of graveside services.

    adam — agreed. That’s why I have never been absolutely opposed to the Park 51 mosque. I think Manhattanites have the right to object to it and prevent it from being established, if they can, without being in violation of the 1st amendment. But I figure if it does go into operation, it’s an opportunity.

    I’m following the progress of this Christian center the evangelical group is working on near Ground Zero, as well as the Greek Orthodox church. I’d like to see a Jewish group get in there with a Jewish center. I’d like to see the whole area decorated with crosses, tablets of the Law, menorahs during Chanukah, Nativity scenes at Christmas. Get some Buddhists in there with their own worship area. Have candlelight vigils in the streets and sing gospel songs. Blow the shofar. Ring bells. Let the atheists in regularly to protest everybody — and that means everybody. Politicians should parade through celebrating the contribution of Christians and Jews, who have always been the earliest and most widely represented of the religious faithful in America. They can celebrate the Muslims too; go for it. But there will be no pretense that Muslims need special celebration in America. Muslims are treated better in America than they are anywhere else on earth. Try to refute that: you can’t. And the reason they’re treated better is that the majority sociopolitical sensibility here is Judeo-Christian.

    What we should NOT have is a situation where Islam occupies a privileged position that is denied to our other religions at Ground Zero — one in which Muslims are prominent and allowed to be visible but everyone else has to maintain a demure silence, lest any part of religion touch any part of public life.

    But we won’t achieve that by trying to force Islam to accept being silenced in the way Christianity, in particular, has. Nor is that the best approach. Government should not try to force anything in this regard — but it should get out of the way of other believers who want to have their symbols and their beliefs represented around Ground Zero in lower Manhattan. Good will come of that.

  10. Sounds good to me. Now, what about same sex marriage? The don’t want to be left alone, they want to force recognition from others, and to criminalize their critics. It seems to me that the logic here would be to fight to allow everyone to recognize whatever marriages they want, and perhaps the government can just focus on relations between adults and their dependent children. Keep putting freedom to work in innovative ways–I agree, that’s the American way.

    • property rights, adam. legal recognition of a marriage has to be relatively clear.

      everyone has always been free to have an opinion of other people’s marriages, but not an expectation that a personal opinion is more than of personal import.

      • Let people sign contracts arranging for property rights–if the law forbids unrelated people from have joint ownership (I don’t know if it does anywhere) then change that law. People can own a house together, or anything else they want. I don’t see what that has to do with marriage-or, at least why it must be tied up with marriage (clearly it is now).

        The question, as I see it, is the following: let’s say an owner of an apartment building only rents to married couples–is he obliged to count a gay marriage as a marriage? If the answer is yes, we have a tyrannical government. The examples can be multiplied: an adoption agency that only serves married couples, a bank that favors married couples in its lending, etc.

        I do like that “everyone has always been free…” part–yes, as we all know, marriage has always been completely free of any shared moral values, until those Republicans came along and invented that whole man-woman thing. Why we allow those polyphobes to insist that only two people can be married is still unclear, though.

  11. adam, I think you answer your own question on same-sex marriage. The issue there is not one of live and let live, it’s the proponents of one view demanding that the government — and hence all the governed — recognize their sexual relationship as marriage.

    Government intrusion on our lives is much too far gone already for anyone to honestly make the argument that what the government recognizes isn’t binding on everyone’s personal thoughts.

    As you point out, obliquely, same-sex marriage is not something that has ever had to be outlawed. Sodomy laws were laws against sodomy; no one mistook them for laws against same-sex “marriage.” There’s no analogy for this issue in other aspects of social history, hard as advocates try to make it like the civil rights movement or women’s suffrage.

    It’s not about gays being admitted to the same civic privileges as others. Gays can do everything anyone else can do, and no one asks them what their sexual preference is. What it’s about is redefining a social institution for society as a whole. It’s about government requiring the rest of society to accept a declaration about non-traditional sexual relationships.

    It has nothing to do with rights. Rights pertain to things like eligibility to vote, express opinion, practice religion, own property, receive a fair trial, etc. It has to do with obtaining government recognition of a sexual practice.

    That’s why — as I have laid out a number of times — the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell issue isn’t about gays serving (they already serve), it’s about gays telling, and everyone else being required to respond in specified ways.

    • Of course I agree with you here, and I was hoping to extend the line of thinking in your original post. I took you to be suggesting that there are lots of battles that we don’t need to fight at the level of the state (and never, certainly, at that level alone), but can comabt more ingeniously within civil society, through a maximization of our rights. This seems to me important, because the leftist strategy for decades has been to take over the state, focusing in particular on those elements of it that operate beyond majority control: the bureaucracy, education and judiciary in particular. We need to keep fighting them at the state level, but the problem is they’ve already gotten the hilltop–one more Supreme Court Justice and they can make same sex marriage as untouchable as abortion. And then it will turn out that whatever “right” same sex marriage supposedly represents trumps religious freedom, and we can get ready for lawsuits against Churches and Synagogues (will anyone dare sue a mosque?) for not performing them. Etc.–nothing new here. The question is can we find other means of fighting, other resources for subverting such subversions? What would be the equivalent of the Patriot Guard here?

      • adam — indeed, the leftist strategy is just what you say, a thing I have been emphasizing for years. We already have in place all the infrastructure necessary for the left to sue religious freedom out of existence, using same-sex “marriage” as the hinge — if they can get that one more friendly justice appointed to the Supreme Court. Those who claim to not see that the infrastructure of laws and precedent is in place and primed are either very, very dense or disingenuous.’

        In the case of many institutions, the suppression of free thought has already been accomplished preemptively. Out of the mere FEAR of lawsuits, institutions have embraced the active suppression of free religious thought.

        Churches and Orthodox synagogues in which adherence to the Biblical interpretation of sin is a core tenet will be the last to fall, because they will hold out against lawsuits rather than trying to fend them off by shedding their beliefs preemptively. But they will unquestionably be attacked relentlessly with lawsuits, and at some point there will be a judge like Virginia Phillips with no regard for the scope of her authority, and a presidential administration with no regard for the rule of law.

        I think it has been a strategic error for religious conservatives to let the debate be so much about government’s posture on social issues. The true conservative position is that law doesn’t even work the way the left conceives it to: as an agent for the moral transformation of society. I don’t have a problem with the people voting to restrict abortion, but I do have a problem with Christians thinking that anyone’s moral status is transformed by the passing of laws. Christians should resist the left’s use of law to enforce a vicious and degenerate standard on society, but should not mistake law and government for a means of salvation. Reaching individual hearts, one by one, is the work Christians should be devoting themselves to.

        And many are, which is a big reason why the number of abortion clinics in America has steadily dropped since 1973. Christians can do a lot by working through transactions not brokered by the government. I don’t say “private” transactions, because there is a wide field for public interaction that has nothing to do with the government. That field has always been an American specialty, and we need to get back to our roots and reclaim it.

        If I had to put the concept I’m after in just a few words, it would go like this: Resist the left’s initiatives for the use of government, and don’t mirror-image them. The very concept of government need not be what the left proclaims it to be — and the foundation of America was itself an act meant to establish that truth.

        • What I have to add here is the inevitable need for civil disobedience–resisting the left’s initiatives for government will sometimes mean resisting the government. Christians certainly have powerful argumentative resources here–we’ll see how many of them have the wit and courage to draw upon them. The future of our country may depend upon it.

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