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“An Unabashed Bigot”: Should We Go Picket Fred Phelps’ Funeral?

Now that the Rev. Fred Phelps is dead, decent people are being tested. The conundrum is, should we picket Phelps’ funeral?

Phelps, of course, was head of the Westboro Baptist Church – though it seemed less of a house of worship than a home for institutionalized hate – which is known for picketing funerals, especially those of fallen U.S. soldiers. Was he antiwar, and protesting the deaths (or service) of members of the military who lost their lives in war? Oh, no – there was not even the pretense of behaving badly in the name of advocating for a more peaceful world. Phelps was an unabashed bigot – and in his mind, according to the church’s own website, God was punishing soldiers and basically all of America for the nation’s increasing acceptance of its gay and lesbian citizens. Phelps and his cohorts picketed the funeral of Matthew Shepard, a young man beaten to death because he was gay; the group picketed the funerals of Elizabeth Edwards (who surely went through enough stress in life) and of Michael Jackson.

But it was the military funeral demonstrations that were perhaps the most galling. There were families, understandably distraught over the loss of (often) very young people who died in the line of duty, and all Phelps could see were the rightful victims of God’s wrath. The picketers would carry signs saying “God Hates Fags,” among other appalling epithets.

The Supreme Court ruled that the picketing – in the case of a military funeral, at least – was acceptable under First Amendment tenets. It wasn’t an endorsement of the harassment (and it was, indeed, harassment), but a statement that we don’t quiet people who want to be heard in this country, no matter how offensive their views are.

It would be tempting to turn that concept back on Phelps and whatever loved ones he might have. It might feel satisfying to disrupt his own funeral, carrying signs that say “God, and people of faith, and people who have no religion at all, hate bigots.” It might be cathartic for people who believe in Hell to discuss openly, in front of mourners, what kind of accommodations Phelps will have in eternal fire. Phelps refused to let gays, lesbians, transgender and bisexual people live lives of dignity; he refused to let service members be mourned and buried with honor, and he interfered with the basic right of human beings to say peaceful good-byes to those they have lost. Why should he be given any of those considerations now?

The answer is because Phelps is dead, and with him, hopefully, is some of the poison he distributed. Behaving decently isn’t about the impact on people who may or may not deserve our decency. It is a practice that by definition must be exercised without discrimination. The reason we should not picket career hater Fred Phelps’ funeral is simple: because we are not Fred Phelps. We need not mourn his death. But neither must we endorse his bigoted and destructive tactics by continuing his tactics.

 

By: Susan Milligan, U. S. News and World Report, March 21, 2014

March 24, 2014 - Posted by | Bigotry | , , , , , , ,

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