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God Hates Fred Phelps

November 1, 2007

Fred Phelps was just ordered to pay more than $10 million after protesting at the funeral of a marine killed in Iraq. Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church have made name for themselves protesting at funerals of soldiers, homosexuals, and others they believe are ruining America. At this particular protest, the church members were carrying “God Hates Fags” signs, as they believe America is being punished with terrorism by God for our country’s acceptance of homosexuals (Phelps’ website is http://www.godhatesfags.com).

The family sued the church for defamation, invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress. They won the subsequent lawsuit and were awarded $2.9M in compensatory damages and $8M in punitive damages. The church, which claims it is well within its First Amendment rights to protest at a public funeral, is appealing the lawsuit.

Now, this may put in the minority around here, but I am not sure that lawsuit was such a good idea, for a few reasons. The lawsuit and the inevitable appeals guarantee the Westboro Baptist Church (which has no affiliation with any mainstream Baptist Christian churches in the US) free publicity and prime-time airspace in which to promote their message. Whatever they end up paying, which will likely be much less than the original $10.9M, they will have gotten their money’s worth in all the attention they receive.

The problem with this is that people who oppose Phelps’ views (read: all sane people) are for the most part very passive in their opposition. Like me, they write on their blogs that he is an idiot, but it stops there. The people who agree with him, however, are much more active in their agreement. They will see the Westboro Baptist Church as a persecuted minority, and many of them will feel the need to join the cause, where they otherwise may have stayed on the sidelines.

And finally, horribly, I’m not sure what Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church are doing should even be illegal. It is disgusting, completely misguided, intentionally hurtful, and a whole host of other adjectives I could list for days. However, I don’t know if “illegal” is one of them. This may come down to a matter of “should” versus “can.” Should Phelps be doing what he is doing? Absolutely not. He is a heartless asshole. But can he protest outside funerals with “God Hates Fags” signs? Unfortunately, probably. Even heartless assholes get free speech.

Does he deserve whatever he has coming for exercising his free speech rights in this way? Again, probably. Free speech does not mean consequence free speech.

15 Comments leave one →
  1. andy permalink*
    November 1, 2007 5:23 pm

    There are just some people that are such enormous piles of shit that they shouldn’t be granted protection under our law. I would say that most people would have a hard time killing someone. Regret, disgust, etc. would cause them a lot of distress.

    I don’t think I’d suffer any remorse wailing on Phelps (or people like him) with a baseball bat. He is a spectacular piece of garbage that just makes our country look bad. We’d all be better off without him.

  2. Adam permalink*
    November 1, 2007 5:29 pm

    I agree. We would be much better off without him. What makes “us” better than the proverbial “them” is we don’t kill people we disagree with. We mock them relentlessly.

  3. andy permalink*
    November 1, 2007 5:44 pm

    I’m not saying we should send an assassin, I’m just saying if someone happened to give me a free pass to cave his skull in, I’m not sure I could resist.

    As far as relentlessly mocking him, I already do. Lots of people do. What we really need is an entire day of CSPAN congress coverage devoted to making fun of him. I would love to see the Supreme Court – the people who may ultimately decide his fate – openly mocking him. I want to see Judge Thomas’ best Phelps impression – replete with those stupid fucking cataract sunglasses he wears.

  4. November 1, 2007 6:05 pm

    I want their women and children first. Phelps and his cronies can watch what happens to their loved ones before I cut their own guts out and feed them to the dogs.

    Note: Just a fantasy – I would never actually rape small children unto death before their parents’ eyes before then raping and murdering those children’s mothers – and that before finally killing their fathers. The law forbids such behavior and I follow the law.

  5. marino permalink
    November 1, 2007 6:25 pm

    Fuck Phelps. Fuck his stupid bible thumping minions. Disturbing the funerals of soldiers killed in the line of duty is beyond reprehensible.

    ironically enough, the soldiers died ostensibly defending the freedom that allows those assholes to be there in the first place. None of the soldiers dying in Iraq should have been sent there, and the Bush administration has the blood of 4,000 dedicated young people on its hands.

    That being said, Phelps should be allowed to protest all he wants…unguarded in a hardcore insurgent run area of Baghdad. Or Fallujah, Karbala or Najaf. I’d be curious to see how much he hated gay people and the soldiers dying because the US is tolerant of gays as he was being strung up and (hopefully) beheaded on camera.

    Fuck that guy.

  6. andy permalink*
    November 1, 2007 6:48 pm

    While I think obviously he is getting publicity from these cases, his stance is inherently counter-effective towards garnering any type of support.

    The blind redneck patriotism and love of America trumps blind homophobia any day.

    It’s “9/11 never forget”, not “Matthew Shephard never forget”.

    Anyway, the law of averages, as applied to popular fundamentalist conservative church leaders pretty much gives us 50% certainty that Phelps has raped some little boy anyway. Sexual deviance is a way of life for these people.

  7. Keri permalink
    November 1, 2007 7:15 pm

    First, I think we should include the thousands of Iraqis who are now dead. I don’t think we should focus solely on US deaths there.

    Second, I reluctantly agree with you, Adam. If free speech was restricted to what the majority deems right and socially acceptable, it would not be free speech. Phelps and people like him are disgusting human beings, but they are disgusting human beings who live in the United States. I hate what he’s doing as will most people, however, I don’t think it’s illegal. With freedom comes compromise – you have to suffer through the bad stuff so that the good stuff gets a voice too. Free speech is already governed enough by the courts and law enforcement in general. Think of the past hundred years.

    It has been said better, but laws should be made for those who will abuse the power. You can’t fine or silence someone because you don’t agree.

  8. November 1, 2007 7:29 pm

    He lost all protection under the 1st Amendment when he went to the funeral. You are allowed to speak as you will but you are not allowed to interfere with others’ gatherings. Invasion of privacy trumps so called freedom of speech.

    That doesn’t isn’t take into account his treason. Many of those signs they carry celebrate the deaths of US service men and women. That is lending aid and comfort to the enemy and is treasonous.

  9. marino permalink
    November 1, 2007 7:35 pm

    hadn’t thought of Phelps’ douchery as treason until now.

    time to waterboard his ass.

  10. Adam permalink*
    November 1, 2007 7:55 pm

    Several states have passed laws that make protesting within 500 feet of a funeral illegal. However, the state where the funeral in question took place (Maryland I believe) does not have such laws, yet. That makes it harder to get them on any laws (and why this was a civil case and not a criminal case).

    These are awful people. This is the same group that was going to protest at both the funerals of the Amish girls who were killed a few years back and at some of the Va. Tech students’ funerals, except a conservative radio host offered them hours of unrestricted airtime in exchange for calling off the protests.

    In this instance, Phelps and his church have broken every conceivable social norm, ever. They are heartless, awful people. But it’s hard to say they did anything that broke any laws, because the laws just weren’t in place.

    Also, I’m not sure I agree with the treason comment. I don’t think bin Laden is resting easier because Phelps hates gays. I think bin Laden wants all “nonbelievers” dead, including the Westboro Baptist church and Phelps. If anything, the idea that bin Laden is a tool used by a Christian God to smite America would make him hate Phelps more, not less.

  11. November 1, 2007 8:49 pm

    I’m disgusted and outraged by Fred Phelps’s acts, but the ideas expressed here of torturing and murdering him and his family are just as abhorrent.

    We should be praying for him and encouraging him to see the error of his ways. There is no limit to what God can do, even with people who spew hate.

  12. November 1, 2007 9:42 pm

    I say send them to their god for judgment.

  13. Ashley permalink
    November 2, 2007 2:03 pm

    I would disagree that Phelps’ is guilty of treason. If that’s the case then so are the 60’s riots and the draft card burnings. As much as Phelps is an asshole, what he is doing is not illegal and unfortunately he has every right to practice his right of free speech. Rights cannot be revoked from him unless he is a convicted felon, which he is not (yet).

    Needless to say, his actions are totally disgusting, but when it’s all said and done, I think Phelps’ may actually be doing us a favor. Look how much attention and emotion he is stirring up. Good or bad, he is making people think and causing momentous outraged towards the Christian fundamentalists and everyday crazed evangelicals (which in my option are the second greatest threat to our civilization behind environmental crisis). I’ve always said that there is no one institution that creates more atheists than the Catholic Church (for I am one such case). We’ll I think that same can be said about Phelps and his unintentional movement to create a widespread stance on social tolerance.

    I waited to comment on this discussion thread because I wanted to read into it further. I visited http://www.godhatesfags.com. It took FOREVER to load. I can only assume that there were millions of people trying to pull up this site. Reading through his ministry postings, I came across the FAQ page…

    Q: “Why do you preach hate and intolerance?”
    A: “Because the Bible preaches hate and intolerance…”

    You are absolutely right Mr. Phelps. And I’m thankful to you for pointing this out in such a public and loud mannered way.

  14. Adam permalink*
    November 2, 2007 2:32 pm

    I hope you are right that all the publicity turns people against Phelps and his “church.” People need to decide on their own that he is an idiot, not have the government tell them. That is the only permanent way to remove these groups from our society.

    I also don’t think it’s a fair jump to go from Phelps and the Westboro Baptist church to the Catholic Church (or any other mainstream religion, for that matter). The Catholic Church, like any other institution, has its flaws, some of them very significant, but the work they do is not based in a message of hate. Whether or not you agree with their dogma, the community work done by religious groups is a very significant contribution to our society.

    Catholic Charities alone, to take one group, provided food, shelter, and other basic human needs to almost 8 million people in 2006. Multiply that across the countless other religion-based charities and social organizations and you have a very powerful, very significant, very largely positive force in our country. What does the Westboro Baptist Church do besides protest funerals with anti-gay signs?

    I know you aren’t a big fan of religion, to put it lightly, but to group Phelps’ followers with all religions makes you seem more than a little out of touch.

  15. Keri permalink
    November 2, 2007 3:54 pm

    A small comment on Adam’s bit about religious charities – most charities are religious based. The atheists among us, though probably very caring, are not starting groups to help with poverty, abuse, or literacy. If you want a charity organization you’re going to get a religious affiliation.

    Phelps will get more followers, a strengthened core, and a whole lot more people who disagree with them who will talk about the wrongs of the preachings. What I wonder is if religious groups with talk about him, or just push it aside as a fringe group that doesn’t invovle them and keep quiet. Though more people disagree with the group than agree with it, the people who disagree with be far less likely do something to counter such hatred than the people who agree with the group will be to act out in favor of it.

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