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Another ‘Hallowed Ground’ vs. First Freedoms Debate: Hate Group Church Can Protest Military Funerals?

posted by Nicole Neroulias

The Westboro Baptist Church, a small hate group predominantly comprised of the Phelps family of Kansas, still has the right to picket at military funerals with signs like “Thank God for Dead Gay Soldiers” and “God Hates Fags,” asserting its claim that troop deaths are divine punishment for America’s tolerance of homosexuality and other “sins.” A federal judge just struck down two 2006 Missouri laws that had banned such protests, though the laws were never strictly enforced, the Kansas City Star reports.

Well, now we have a timely example of America’s freedom of speech (and perhaps religion, though this group is really more a “so-called” than actual church) trumping a “hallowed ground” situation. I’d certainly agree that a cemetery, especially one where a military funeral is taking place, falls into that category, if not the five-block radius around Ground Zero in lower Manhattan.

CNN reports that the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear an appeal this October from the father of Matthew Snyder, a soldier killed in Iraq, after members of the Westboro Church conducted an angry demonstration at his burial service in Maryland. The family of the Marine had won a $5 million judgment from the protesters, which was overturned by lower federal courts. For more on this,check out this recent Boston Globe story.

What do you think? Share your thoughts in the Comments section below.

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Robert C

posted August 17, 2010 at 1:09 pm


Perhaps in this situation the 21 gun salute should take better aim.



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Gigi

posted August 17, 2010 at 1:30 pm


I wonder if the famlies could “hire” the Hells Angels for security?



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David F

posted August 17, 2010 at 1:52 pm


While we do have freedom of speech, it is not a complete blanket freedom. I imagine that if I yelled bomb in an airport, said I was going to shoot the president, said lewd comments to a young child or incited a riot I would find myself in trouble. It is a sad day when families of American soldier can expect better treatment and protection from motorcycle gangs (patriot guard riders) than from the government that sent their child to war.



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Matt Schaffner

posted August 17, 2010 at 1:53 pm


Actually, that’s why in KS and other places there’s the Patriot Guard: a ton of leather clad bikers wielding American flags that block the funeral from the idiot protesters (who despite my total disagreement with them, their practices, and their beliefs have the right to do what they are doing) and are often just waiting for one of them to get close enough to their bikes to be justified in beating them severely. As someone who believes in the right of free speech and free religion, I do find myself agreeing with Robert C…



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Alicia

posted August 17, 2010 at 2:22 pm


During her coverage of Comic-Con, Beliefnet’s own Movie Mom posted a video clip of a counter-protest staged against Westboro Church by the Comic-Con attendees. It made fun of them and was the exact right response to their nonsense, though I doubt very much Phelps and gang got the joke.
But, when Westboro Church shows up at a military funeral, perhaps the legal system should grant a waiver to allow the grieving families to administer a few well-aimed punches in the nose.



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Christopher Mohr

posted August 17, 2010 at 5:05 pm


In this case, privacy rights should trump freedom of expression rights. Remember, the First Amendment guarantee of free speech is not absolute. Slander (in this case, certainly) is not covered, nor is libel. We’ll see how the case goes, but unless the WBC was specifically invited to the funeral, they are in violation of the family’s privacy, and they are engaging in slander by saying what they do to the invited guests. All this in an attempt to score political points in a battle they have already lost.



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pagansister

posted August 17, 2010 at 8:48 pm


David F. has a good examples of what would probably get one arrested! Yelling “FIRE” in a crowded theater is not allowed. Why is yelling horrible things at the family of a dead soldier considered OK?
Like Matt S., I believe in freedom of speech and religion, but I too agree with Robert C.



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Phelps sucks

posted August 17, 2010 at 9:00 pm


It’s hate speech wrapped in the lie of the first amendment protected religion. This cult’s church is comprised primarily of the Phelps clan. They spew hate, baiting people to take on an offensive and strike one of them so that they can then be sued for damages, so the Phelps cult can obtain the court award and continue on surviving as Satanists in sheeps cloth.
One day someone will refuse them their permit, so they can take their hate speech that is not protected but is prosecuted, and go elsewhere. Like perhaps Iran. I’d actually pay the plane ticket to send them there. Just as long as I had the video rights exclusive to tape every last one of them receiving their well deserved beheading!
Ah yes, then it would indeed be a matter of god answers prayers! By shutting Phelps up for ever!
In the meantime he serves as an example of what Christ came to save the world from.
A closet self-loathing homosexual man, who leads a church right straight to hell where even the Devil will vomit, when they arrive.



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m.e.graves

posted August 18, 2010 at 11:29 am


If the Phelps clan is on public property, then what they say is protected. They are not calling for violence; they are not telling people at the funerals that they need to commit acts of violence. They are telling people what they feel called by God to tell. It doesn’t matter how odious the speech is, we have to put up with it. If anybody’s free speech can be impeded, then ANYBODY’S free speech can be impeded.
I met the daughter of Fred Phelps once in Pensacola. She was singing a song. I went up to her and told her she has a beautiful voice, but why did she have to waste it on saying such ugly things?
Also, I have a more personal reason so support what they are doing. I remember when their pickets were focused on only the GLBT community, especially Matthew Shepard. We tried to get them to stop then, but back then, the majority of Americans supported what they were doing because they were targeting only “those people”, the gays. Americans sat back and said simply that it is their freedom of religion. It was only when they started to picket the heterosexual soldiers’ funerals that people started to act, and so I simply tell them that it is their freedom of religion.
I once supported curtailing their freedom of speech and religion, but now I know I was wrong. But what do we call they who once supported their freedom of speech and religion to protest “the gays”, but now want to curtail them because now they offend them?
I know that I have turned this into a personal rant, but I suppose that’s just my freedom of speech, as well. I just always like to ask where were the majority of Americans when they were doing this to the GLBT community?



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jestrfyl

posted August 18, 2010 at 11:56 am


This is one of the costs of freedom. We may not like it and we may even think it shows an incredible lack of sensitivity, maturity, or propriety. But Freedom has two edges and we have to be aware that it can be an offensive weapon as well as a defensive tool.
I do not condone Phelps and his ilk, nor do I think they have a theological leg on which to stand or a humble knee from which they bow. The Comic-Con response is the best when confronted by this sort of porrly conceived protest. But that is not possible at a Memorial Service. I do think that turning away from their tentrums and tirades, not giving them an audience or any of the attention they crave will do the most to dissipate their energy. However, they cannot be completely ignored. So I suggest that the police continue to monitor them so they do not overstep the very freedom that protects them.
If we simply stop them a door closes that may prevent other more earnest, considerate, and viable protests from happeneing as well.



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Robert C

posted August 18, 2010 at 5:59 pm


Being gay I can explain to you the difference as I see it. Protesting gay rights in one fashion or another is a contemporary issue that comes as part of the struggle for gay liberation. Its distasteful but understandable. On the other hand disrupting a private funeral for a serviceman or woman who served the national interest for all and paid with their life is not simply distatseful, it is treasonous. It is because it fundementally disputes the sacrifice made by our armed forces in war time. Using a soldier’s funeral service to get attention in order to protest gay rights is a non sequitor that no intelligent citizen would find has a connection to free speech rights in the least. If free speech has deteriorated to this then perhaps its time to revise the original amendment.



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Henrietta22

posted August 18, 2010 at 6:53 pm


I think that once this comes into the Supreme Court this will stop. What they are doing isn’t freedom of speech at all, it is harassment of the families of the deceased, and disrespecting the solemn event going on. If a person from Westboro Church comes up to you on a street and throws slurs at you over and over, it is harassment and they can be arrested. This is the same thing. Religion shouldn’t be excused when they use harassment and disrespect. Nobody should be excused.



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Gwyddion9

posted August 19, 2010 at 12:06 am


The Phelps compound is about and hour and half west of where I live.
Granted, I don’t like them or they’re words or actions but if we are going to honestly live by 1st Amendment, they, no matter how disgusted we are about them, have this right. Most of the family are lawyers so they sue for any type of or perceived slander to make money.
Personally, if this is “their” god, they can keep the disfunctional being. It is sad though, they appear to enjoy the pain the inflict others at the time of their mourning. As human beings, they’re the bottom of the barrel but they still have the rights given to all Americans, even though they abuse this right.



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Your Name

posted August 19, 2010 at 10:31 am


Robert C. speaks of “the struggle for gay liberation” when he himself is willing to let his right to equalilty be put to a popular vote.
The only thing more contemptuous than hate speech is self-loathing Auntie Tom-ism.



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Thom Hunter

posted August 19, 2010 at 2:25 pm


Part of the unrest we are seeing in our country is due to the fact that so many decisions which impact all of us are being made at the judicial level, based on appeals after appeals. This is the case with Westboro, which is as much an anti-church as there ever has been. In their phoniness, they attach the “Baptist” name, which only makes them more laughable. Talk about a dysfunctional church “family.”
The upside to all of this judicial action is that Americans find ways to counteract. When Westboro moves in with their minionesque protests, they are usually met with overpowering counter-protesters determined to protect the family-survivors of the fallen. This is most likely what will happen in New York if and when the mosque/cultural center is built. It will never be a place for peaceful worship of any kind.



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Eric

posted August 19, 2010 at 5:53 pm


The 1st Amendment was put into place to enable the freedom of US citizens to protest against any government. The US military IS a branch of the government, so the Phelps clan technically does have the right to protest against it or anything else governmental. I just wish that if they HAD to do so, they could find a civil, tasteful, and intelligent way to do it.



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Robert C

posted August 19, 2010 at 7:21 pm


You want to discuss a “self-loathing Auntie Tom-ism” ? When you yourself, shrouded in anonymity, prostelytize ad hominem with all the putrid bile of the Phelps clan. Do not misrepresent what I have said you dizzy little queen. My “equality” is not up for a popular vote. Nor did I support passage of Proposition 8. However I do not believe that overturning a Democratic vote by oligarchy is appropriate or the answer to true equality. My position, as an activist then living in California, was to address the root of the problems with the plebescite, which everyone chooses to sweep under the carpet. The reason, sole reason, that the marriage vote lost was the black community, pure and simple. Fix perceptions first. Secondly I am satisfied with appropriate civil unions and prefer not create yet another protected class. However, I know full well that the gay cadre with nazi like approbation, will attack contra opinions with a viciousness last seen at Marie Antoinette’s scaffold. Through your ‘me-too-isms” that is endemic in the gay community, you advance gay ignorance. But of course, many in my own community insist that what they want is what they want, immediately. Everyone else be damned. I prefer not to be so callous in retribution.



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Mordred08

posted August 21, 2010 at 6:47 pm


Robert C, being gay yourself does not give you a free pass to attack the LGBT community and call people who don’t agree with you “queers” and “queens” and whatnot. And do I really need to tell you how stupid you are for making that little “Nazi” comment? No matter how many times people try to deny it, thousands of homosexuals were murdered by the Nazis (along with several ethnic, religious and political minorities). We did NOT inflict the Holocaust! The Holocaust was inflicted upon us! And to equate LGBTs with Nazis or the KKK or whatever is just sick. We are not calling for the murder of innocent people. We demand only what everyone else receives on a silver platter without protest and without being demonized by politicians and preachers and in your case, even members of our own community.



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Robert C

posted August 21, 2010 at 7:47 pm


Oh just like the cabal to defend someone who took the 1st ad hominem shot. For that matter what gives anyone the right to label anyone in the community Uncle Tom for expressing their views? Don’t play sanctimonius with me. I don’t tolerate gay hyopcrisy well and the nazi comparison stands. The national socialists affected many other improprieties aside from the holocaust. Censorship for one with a long list of actions that eliminated all opposition thought. Get over yourself, no one deserves anything on a silver platter. And I’ll tell you what gives me a pass to call the shots like I see them. Forty plus years of being among the first and in the forefront of gay liberation. The arrests, the political work, the campaigns, the bashings, the out of pocket donations, the traveling, the fundraising, the aids action work, the publishing and the long and well earned street cred. You don’t like it? So!



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Mordred08

posted August 21, 2010 at 8:55 pm


And yet 40 years later you’re mocking and insulting members of your own community that you fought so hard for. Accusing us of “censorship” and “eliminating all opposition thought” while our enemies spew vile propaganda against us 24/7 in the name of “freedom of religion”. How does that make any sense?



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Robert C

posted August 22, 2010 at 10:29 am


40 years later members of my own community mock and insult me and other more restrained and moderate gay people because we don’t agree or support all the methodolgy, the priorities and the politics. Because that particular world view is not productive in the long run. Because you view everyone who doesn’t agree with every position the gay left takes as enemies. Because you brand everyone who has sincere religious belief as “spewing vile propaganda”. I find more intolerance on the left than I find on the right in many circumstances. I find it most of the hostility pointless. If that doesn’t make sense in any way there is nothing further to explain.



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Mordred08

posted August 22, 2010 at 12:13 pm


Robert C: “you view everyone who doesn’t agree with every position the gay left takes as enemies…you brand everyone who has sincere religious belief as ‘spewing vile propaganda’.”
I’m sure the members of the National Organization for Marriage, the American Family Association, the Family Research Council, Focus on the Family, and a bunch of other organizations I can’t think of at the moment would be proud to be called enemies of the LGBT community. Due to their “sincere religious belief”, they have convinced themselves that the “homosexual agenda” is the biggest threat to American freedom and western civilization since communism, though a close tie with the evil community center building Muslims. After the passing of Proposition Straight (I’d use the more popular Prop H8 but it’s apparently impolite to suggest Christian conservatives hate anything these days), it’s foolish not to realize that they have essentially declared war on us. They are our enemies, because they actively choose to be our enemies. And if you expected to be treated as some kind of hero for defending our enemies and treating us the same way they do when we stand up for ourselves, you were sadly mistaken.



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Robert C

posted August 22, 2010 at 5:01 pm


Gobbledygook! Many, Many christian conservatives I’ve met are not homophobic, and would accept gay civil unions. They have an understandable blockage with marriage. Understandable because gay culture still focuses too strongly on the sexual aspects of the community. I can name you dozens of left wing groups, or gay groups that are just as fanatical. But isn’t it just as wrong to brand all members of a group fanatics because of the very vocal minority that the MSM recognizes? Your rant is sad because it doesn’t recognize understanding or compromise. I don’t expect anything from the myopic wing of the gay community. However there are more conservative democratic and log cabin types out there than you think. Lot’s. And they are more perturbed at the hijacking of the movement by the nit wit fringe than you can imagine. Get real. Even castro got old. Your rant is already old.



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Mordred08

posted August 22, 2010 at 11:48 pm


“Many christian conservatives I’ve met are not homophobic, and would accept gay civil unions.”
Then why are civil unions not allowed in mine and several other states? You may know many conservative Christians who believe that way, but from my experience, they are the exception to the rule.
“They have an understandable blockage with marriage. Understandable because gay culture still focuses too strongly on the sexual aspects of the community.”
I’d ask what you meant by sexual aspects and in what way the gay community is too focused on them, but…you know what? You win. I don’t feel like doing this anymore. Clearly you have a very different perspective on the LGBT community and the religious right than I do, and trying to figure it out is giving me a migraine. I really should have stopped listening to you back when you implied the Phelps’ protesting of the funerals of gay murder victims was “distasteful but understandable” and only became wrong once they started going after soldiers.



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Robert C

posted August 23, 2010 at 9:53 am


Are you dyslexic? Did you miss the 1st comment I made or do you simply re-interpret someone else’s words to suit your own position? The “distasteful but understandable” phrase was in response to another’s comment and was made about conservatives in general and not the Phelps clan. If you have not understood by now that my belief is to seek common ground, to respect other’s views and beliefs as you would have your own respected by others. But then again the radical leftist gays only hear what they want to hear and attack on command whenever they don’t receive universal approbation for everything they deign to utter. Yes. Best that you pack it in. I find trying to have a discussion with a brick wall.



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Robert C

posted August 23, 2010 at 9:54 am


….useless.



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Your Name

posted August 23, 2010 at 3:04 pm


Dear Auntie Tom (aka Robert C.).
“My “equality” is not up for a popular vote.”
When did you change your, er, ‘mind’? This is simply (yet another example) of a self-loathing man lying thru his G.D. teeth. Provably false, like when you typed: “I do not believe that overturning a Democratic vote. Um, voting on other peoples’ (i.e. YOUR) rights IS putting them up for a popular, um, VOTE! What part of that do you not understand? (Hint: it wasn’t a “Democratic” vogte – the Constitution says you should be treated equally before the law. Why do you hate the Constitution so very, very much?)
“I am satisfied with appropriate civil unions and prefer not create yet another protected class.”
You are ALREADY protected – as a citizen. Too bad those “civil” unions you prefer to full equality don’t supply full equality. Glad that some 30 States forbids recognizing even “civil” unionis whatsoever, nevermind the Federal goernment not granting you the exact same 1,176 FEDERAL benefits that are granted to your betterosexual sisters and brothers, Auntie. There’s no such thing as an “appropriate ‘civil’ union”. Equality is equality. Why do you hate equality so very, very much? Speaking of ‘advancing ignorance’.
“I prefer not to be so callous in retribution.”
Sez the one who calls another a “dizzy little queen”. Bite me. Then welcome yourself to Marie Antoinette’s scaffold” you ‘vicious old queen’. (See how easy it is to sling mud. Thanx for the apt examples.)



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Your Name

posted August 23, 2010 at 3:09 pm


“40 years later members of my own community mock and insult me and other more restrained and moderate gay people because we don’t agree or support all the methodolgy, the priorities and the politics.”
No, we mock and insult you because you are willing to let your right to be treated equally before the law be put to a vote. We call ‘em as we see ‘em, too, you know, and we see that as Auntie Tom-ism.
Your attitude is a turd on the Constitution.



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Your Name

posted August 23, 2010 at 3:15 pm


“Many, Many christian conservatives I’ve met are not homophobic, and would accept gay civil unions.”
Too bad so many states changed their Constitutions so that they will never have to ‘accept’/recognize “civil” unions at all – in fact, so that they won’t have to recognize ANY made-up institution that grants any benefits/public recognition to any arrangement even “resembling marriage”.
Of COURSE those ‘good’ “christian conservatives” would “accept” them – they mean NOTHING before the law. That’s the part you don’t get. They’r3 happy to let you settle for nothing. Me? I’ll have no part of that whatsoever.
Full equality now!



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Nicole Neroulias

posted August 23, 2010 at 3:19 pm


Debating the issues here is fine, but please refrain from making personal attacks on each other. I don’t want to have to censor any comments.



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pagansister

posted August 23, 2010 at 6:52 pm


Thanks, Nicole N. Unfortunately (and I don’t usually complain) but after awhile, personal attacks get really OLD. :o)



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Robert C

posted August 24, 2010 at 12:44 am


Yes and this is the open minded accepting gay left that wants full acceptance and equal rights? Any gay man who disagrees with these pack dogs are self loathing? All the usual trite and dim witted responses. It certainly was a Democratic vote. Simply becaus the results of the plebescite were not to their liking they will use any manouver to get what they want. “We wants it”. “We wants it now”. If “we” don’t get the results we want then its unconstitutional to have had a vote. However if we won, it was constitutional to have the vote. Yeah sure. Rational thought. No, its’ the usual dim witted hateful irrationality on display veiled in stasi like anonymity. But then again the select few are typically transparent.



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Robert C

posted August 24, 2010 at 12:58 am


Interesting piece posted by the (gay) guys at Hillbuzz on just this topic.
“…Equality Illinois is an organization that shouts itself blue in the face demanding “gay marriage” in a blue state like Illinois, but makes little ground because it’s not listening to mainstream America…which keeps sending signals that it accepts male-male and female-female couples ……but is averse to the word “marriage” being used for these unions…..”
Read more here.
http://hillbuzz.org/2010/08/23/brainstorming-gay-marriage-alternative-verbiage-ideas/



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Grumpy Old Person

posted August 25, 2010 at 2:24 pm


Robert C,
“Yes and this is the open minded accepting gay left that wants full acceptance and equal rights?”
Yes. Sorry you don’t want either.
“Any gay man who disagrees with these pack dogs are self loathing?”
Yes. (And, um, didn’t Nicole’s warning about “personal attacks” apply to you?)
“It certainly was a Democratic vote.”
It was an UN-Constitutional vote – i.e. one that should not have taken place to begin with. What’s “democratic” about voting on other people’s rights? And why would you, supposedly a gay man, be okay with letting them vote on your rights?
“Simply becaus the results of the plebescite were not to their liking”
Wrong. (Again.) It wasn’t the “results”, it was the UN-Constitutionality of the plebiscite in the first place. What would you call that other than “self-loathing” – to let others take away your rights?
“If “we” don’t get the results we want then its unconstitutional to have had a vote.”
Again, Robert, the results are neither here nor there. But your statement is correct, it IS UN-Constitutinal to have such a vote. Just ask the Lovings. (And it figures you had to put “we” in smarm quotes – which is what makes me believe you’re not actually gay.)
“However if we won, it was constitutional to have the vote.”
Wrong. Just ask any African-American if s/he thinks their right to be treated equally before the law should be put to a vote – regardless of the outcome.
“Yeah sure. Rational thought.”
Not on your part it isn’t.



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Cheryl

posted September 9, 2010 at 7:28 pm


Yes, they have the “right” to protest, but protesting at a funeral doesn’t hurt the deceased, they’re dead. All the hate group is doing is trying to get publicity and hurting the family in the process. I wonder if they would show up at a Presidential funeral and spew their hate. Doubt it!
Obviously, they don’t actually read God’s Word. 1 Corinthians 10:22-24 “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful; all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify. Let no one seek his own, but each one the other’s well-being.”
Definitely not seeking out the well-being of the family left behind….. especially the children having to see them spew their hate. Unfortunately, being the mother of a Marine who recently returned from Afghanistan, some of the families in my son’s battalion have had the displeasure of their visit. I don’t care whose funeral it is – a mass murderer’s, military member’s, gay’s, or president’s – have some couth & let the family bury their dead in peace. It just sickens me to know that anyone has to deal with the likes of them.



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