Picking sides isn’t always easy.

Happy Monday, devoted readers!

First, I’d like to more formally thank the previous few weeks’ bloggers Bug_Girl, TKingDoll, and sraiche. Their posts were smart and entertaining, and I hope they each return to the Skepchick Blog at some point in the very near future.

Second, because I missed yesterday’s Sunday Night Sermon, I thought I’d make this post just a wee bit sacri-licious (credit to the Simpsons).

You all remember our good friend Fred Phelps, right? He’s the guy who did that web site, Wait, sorry — I don’t think that’s quite right. Anyway, you get the idea. Fred and his church, Westboro Baptist, are so full of hate that they don’t even know how or when or at whom to express it, like a mental patient who bites his doctor because his mirror image frightens him.

For instance, they like to protest the funerals of soldiers killed in Iraq. Why? Because there are gay people.

Go on, read it again, I’ll wait. While I’m waiting, I think I’ll punch a pre-schooler in the face because I am morally opposed to the existence of the woodchuck. Take that, pre-schooler!

Certain states like Missouri have banned Phelps and his crew of loonies from shouting their particular brand of nonsense at mourning people, but now Westboro is fighting back by going to the courts to defend their “freedom of speech.” To accomplish this, they’ve teamed up with the ACLU.

Yowch. I’m a big fan of, well, freedom. I think the ACLU does very important work, and I believe that we must defend the freedoms of the most despicable people or else risk losing our own freedoms. I believe that being exposed to the stupid ideas and dogmas of creeps like Phelps or the KKK or the Holocaust deniers allows us to combat them more easily and destroy their influence more completely. So now we delve once more into the tricky territory of what is and is not considered free speech — the classic example is of one’s freedom to throw a fist ending where another’s nose begins, but real life seldom has such clear distinctions.

Last week, Jews in my community staged a pro-Israel rally outside my window (please note that the location of my window was merely coincidental and did not influence the chosen location of the rally, though I imagine it is inevitable that one day someone feels it necessary to chant and wave signs in front of my building to protest something I’ve done). At what point did the shouting crowd’s freedom of speech begin to legally interfere with my freedom to not be annoyed at all the ruckus while I’m trying to read my e-mails? About 9 pm, I think, which is when noise ordinances say you have to keep it the hell down because people are trying to sleep. Did the noise ordinance restrict the crowd’s freedom of speech? Yes. Was it necessarily a bad thing? Hells no.

That’s why I’m a bit torn here. Westboro Church really has no right to disturb the peace of mourning families — do they? According to the ACLU, the laws prohibit non-disorderly, non-disruptive protesting. From an ACLU press release following a suit against Kentucky:

According to the ACLU brief, the new laws are so broad that they could make it a crime to whistle while walking down the street within earshot of a funeral or to stop for a conversation on a public sidewalk adjacent to a funeral home or place of worship while a funeral service is in progress. 

That lawsuit was filed on behalf of Bart McQueary, who has protested with Westboro on a number of occasions.

The new laws ban peaceful protests within 300 feet of a funeral, and would restrict McQueary and others from making sounds, displaying signs or distributing literature in a non-disruptive manner without approval from the family of the deceased or from the person conducting the service.

Now, I’m not even going to make jokes that a gay-hating asshole is named McQueary because that’s just too damn easy. Instead, I’ll just point out that this entire thing seems like nothing more than an intellectual exercise, since Westboro wouldn’t know how to protest in a non-disruptive manner if they all had their larynxes removed and were possessed by the undead spirit of Mahatma Gandhi.

If the new laws are, in fact, too severe to the point that they outlaw peaceful protest in a public place (apologies for the alliteration), then I agree that they should be repealed. However, I think the ACLU would do well to first find someone who has tried to peacefully protest at a funeral, and take up that case. Currently, they appear to be performing the equivalent of defending a person’s right to own a dog by championing the cause of bestiality club.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca is a writer, speaker, YouTube personality, and unrepentant science nerd. In addition to founding and continuing to run Skepchick, she hosts Quiz-o-Tron, a monthly science-themed quiz show and podcast that pits comedians against nerds. There is an asteroid named in her honor. Twitter @rebeccawatson Mastodon Instagram @actuallyrebeccawatson TikTok @actuallyrebeccawatson YouTube @rebeccawatson BlueSky

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  1. Someone should make a website and put that verse in there that says you should trust god and not your own intelligence. Gah, how did that line go. >_>

    We all knew that video game f(reaquently) a(sked) q(uestions) guides were cheating and god hates cheaters.

  2. Yikes.

    Aren't there specific, non-unconstitutional laws already on the books about hate speech, though? I can't imagine a Westboro protest not being categorised as hate speech.

    Of course, like you, I also can't imagine a Westboro protest being "non-disruptive" and "non-disorderly". The ACLU is probably right to target these laws for consideration, but the Westboro guys aren't the test case. I mean, if the purpose is to prevent non-disruptive and non-disorderly protest from being squelched, wouldn't they want to defend some protestors who are actually non-disruptive and non-disorderly? Besides the fact that you could probably argue against the Westboro protests based on hate speech alone, that is.

    I'm pretty confused about this strategy. Seems to me there are a lot of factors here that confuse the primary issue that the ACLU would want to test: is it ok to restrict speech around a funeral? I would be surprised if they got a clear, unambiguous decision out of this one.

  3. As a former Topeka resident, I've had o live with this guy and his church as long as I can remember. My question has always been, when does it become the community's responsibility to shut up an idiot. I personally don't think it should be against the law for him and his group to spew their hate in most circumstances, but I wonder what responsibility the community has for protecting their own citizens from these kinds of emotional assualts. How bad would it be if people just kicked his ass every time he showed up at a funeral? They would certainly get arrested for assault, but I've seen pretty much everything else tried with these people.

    Anyway, there was actually a story on Phelps this week in the Topeka paper I saw while I was back home for the weekend:

  4. I note that Rebecca's woodchuck appears to be eating something.

    Could it be a fig, perhaps?

    Ah HA! This missing link in the chain of damnation!!

    Rebecca hates woodchucks. Woodchucks eat figs. God hates figs (See the website for proof). The enemy of my enemy is my friend. Ergo, God loves Rebecca!! More ergo, Rebecca loves God!!! And here she has been pretending to be an atheist all this time! Lying Jezebel!

    And how do pre-schoolers fit into all this, you are asking? Obvious! Pre-schoolers love Winnie the Pooh. Winnie the Pooh has a character named Gopher, who is really a closet woodchuck, and thus a closet fig-eater. So pre-schoolers must therefore love figs. Double-plus-ergo, pre-schoolers are Satanists!

    As of tomorrow, all good-thinking men and women must therefore start protesting at the site of their nearest daycare center/den of iniquity.

    "Damnation for the Diaper-Clad Demons!"

  5. As others have said: the Westboro protests are never going to be considered non-disruptive.

    And if by some perverse twist of justice they are, the first thing I think should be done, is have non-disruptive protests inside the Westboro church every Sunday until they overturn the law.

    By the way, would a Satanist ritual be considered disruptive or disorderly when performed inside a church? Perhaps an alternative option …

  6. Take a look at this clip on the westboro church by the Australian show 'The Chaser's war on everything'

    They also had a segment a few weeks ago where they set up a stand at an alternative medicine convention displaying bottles of snake oil, i haven't been able to find a clip for that one yet.

  7. Wouldn't something like "" be better? ;)

    GodHatesBigits (hmm … too similar to big tits I suppose)

  8. Insanity Reigns that was the funniest god dam thing I saw all week. I can't even typ this I am laughing so hard

  9. I know I'm a day late, but I hope I'm not a dollar short. =)

    I was just wondering how the ACLU determines what cases to take. And mayber, perhaps they see cases like this as a way to allow themselves to say, "See, we don't only take 'liberal' cases." KWIM? It provides them the opportunity to be "equal opportunity". Just a thought.

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