Belief Beat

Belief Beat

Freedom of Religion, Speech… and Hate?

The Supreme Court has agreed to weigh in on whether the Westboro Baptist Church had the right to picket a military funeral with signs like “Thank God for Dead Soldiers” and “Fag Troops.” As Religion News Service reports, the justices will decide whether extreme speech that inflicts emotional pain — especially at sensitive venues such as memorials — is protected by the First Amendment. The case will be argued this fall.

Some background information: the Kansas-based church, run by the Phelps family (which also seems to be the crux of its congregation), is classified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Check out this New York Times story and the Religion Clause blog for more legal information about this case and related precedents.


I saw the Westboro Baptist Church in action a few years ago, while covering Pope Benedict’s visit to New York. The handful of members, merrily waving placards with distinctive messages like

“God Hates Fags” and “Priests Rape Boys,” were roped in with the groups of atheists, Pentecostals and sex abuse survivors (each trying their best to keep their distance) within the designated protest area a few blocks south of St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Over all the chanting, I could almost hear that old Sesame Street ditty in my head: “Three of these things belong together… but one of these things just doesn’t belong here!”


Or, to paraphrase Saturday Night Live’s old “Coffee Talk” sketch: The Westboro Baptist Church is neither Baptist nor a Church… discuss?!

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Comments read comments(8)
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Charles Cosimano

posted March 10, 2010 at 11:50 pm

I have no use for the Phelpites or their abominable doctrine, but a church is any group that says it is and if they hold to certain doctrines concerning adult baptism then they are Baptists.

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posted March 11, 2010 at 5:36 am

God’s Word is clear on homosexuality but His Word is clear on how we treat others if we follow Him…with love and kindness…hate does not come from God…nor violence….we pray for those lost to God and treat them with love….standing in patient expectation for Him to work in their lives.

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posted March 12, 2010 at 2:31 am

As despicable I think the doctrine of hate of the WBC is, I support their freedom to be locked away in their own self-imposed prison of hatred.
The truly sad part of it is the children who are born and raised in this twisted church. I cannot imagine the pain they’d go through if/when they wake to the realization of being in the brooding nest of vipers. Truly tragic.

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truth be told

posted March 13, 2010 at 12:04 pm

“God’s Word is clear on homosexuality”
If that were the case, there wouldn’t be a debate happening, Barb. It IS “clear” on homosexual rape, homosexual lust, and homosexual temple prostitution. But on mutual, loving, committed same-sex relations, it is largely silent, particularly on David’s love for Jonathan (“surpassing the love of women”) that was, indeed, quite physical with no approbationn whatsoever.
“Clear”??? I think not. And many Biblilcal scholars agree with me. Yes, I know many Biblical scholars agree with you, but that’s what I mean by the fact that God’s Word is NOT “clear” on the topic of homosexuality as we know it today.
And to Nicole, I am saddened that you chose not to ‘file’ this under any gay-identified topic labels: “homosexuality”, “gay”, “gay rights”, “equal rights” – ALL are missing in your ‘Filed under’ listings. These (inadvertent?) omissions merely re-inforce gay visibility.

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truth be told

posted March 13, 2010 at 12:06 pm

Even a listing under “hate speech” would have been/would be appropriate – for that is exactly what this ‘man’ represents. God’s Word is NOT about hate.

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John the Nontheist

posted March 30, 2010 at 6:15 pm

The westboro church is reading the bible literally. It’s more a book of mass-murders, rapes, pillage, plunder, slavery, child abuse and killing, not to mention the killing of unborn children. That’s a whole lot of hatred. And that’s just the stuff god does: his followers are worse.

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posted April 4, 2011 at 9:44 pm

I will be surprised if the judges decide against Phelps Phools. Freedom is two edged, and slices even we would prefer it not. They are their own worst enemies, making themselves the butt of every comics jokes and the very definition of hatred in the guise of religion (I refuse to distinguish what they do with the word “faith”. They have faith in no one and nothing beyond themselves). Once Phelps shuffles this mortal coil, to the indifference of all civilization, the Phools will disband.

The best tactic is to surround them with silence. Confrontations pheed the phelp’s ego. Instead silence will muffle their voices and diminish their effect.

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