Afternoon InquisitionReligion

AI: Fred Phelps Hates Your Face

Kansas pastor Fred Phelps and his family run Westboro Baptist church totally hates your face, oh and the rest of you too. And they don’t just hate you. They pretty much hate everybody. If you are not familiar with the shenanigans of the vitriolic hate-spewing-sign-holding clan watch the video below. I really recommend you check it out cuz it’s creepy. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

Did you see that? Did you see his kids? Did you see the little one sing at the end? They don’t even know what or why they hate. They just hate because that’s what they have been raised to do.

So in a nutshell, the big news of the day is that the family of a dead soldier sued the Phelps after they picketed their dead sons funeral with signs that said things like, “God hates soldiers” and “You’re in hell.” The family originally won an 11 million dollar settlement for invasion of privacy and emotional distress but the Phelps first negotiated the settlement down to 5 million and then had the case hateoverturned on appeal. So now the family of the dead soldier is appealing that decision and the case is now going to the U.S. Supreme Court.

I am a strong supporter of first amendment rights but I also don’t think these people should have the right to further their opportunistic hate-filled agenda at the cost of bereaving families. It will be interesting to see what the Supreme Court decides.

What do you think? Should the Phelps have the right to have their angry religious protests at funerals? Or is telling them to hit the road going to jeopardize our first amendment rights?

The Afternoon Inquisition (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Skepchick community. Look for it to appear Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays at 3pm ET.

Amy Roth

Amy Davis Roth (aka Surly Amy) is a multimedia, science-loving artist who resides in Los Angeles, California. She makes Surly-Ramics and is currently in love with pottery. Daily maker of art and leader of Mad Art Lab. Support her on Patreon. Tip Jar is here.

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  1. I’m torn on this one. On the one hand, Phelps is a repulsive human being, and he should have shit shoved down his throat until it comes out his ears.

    On the other hand… there’s a right to free speech, even by douchebags. And I’m reluctant to mess with that.

  2. If they were just a little bit crazier they’d be tossed in the loony bin. As far as the protest goes I can see some distance restriction or being trespassed from the cemetery, but in a society where free speech is protected the loonies get to have their say.

  3. “The right to swing my fist ends where the other man’s nose begins.”

    Phelps does have the right to protest, but he does not have the right to take away others’ rights. In this case, he is taking away an inherent right to private grieving. He doesn’t have the right to shove his message down people’s throats.

  4. Those poor kids. It really breaks my heart to see that. They have almost no clue about what they are saying. If that’s not child abuse… ugh.
    I’m with @Mark Hall: and @James Fox: . I find what they say disgusting, but then there are a lot of things that I say that others would find disgusting.

  5. @Skept-artist: I was just going to make the same observation. I keep thinking this must somehow constitute child abuse. Or child endangerment.

    The signs appear to be covered by the 1st Amendment, though. This seems like a situation where “the Law” isn’t the answer. Maybe their community can get involved. I would think that the neighbors, family and friends of these people should isolate them, shame them, and ridicule them. Not every anti-social action needs to be resolved by a court.

  6. I’m a strong believer in the first amendment, too. But there are plenty of restrictions on speech. Slander and libel, for example, or the age-old example of yelling ‘fire’ in a crowded theater.

    Why did the republican party get to send protesters miles away to ‘designated areas’ during their convention, but a private citizen has to put up with Fred Phelp’s crap across the street from a funeral?

    And – context matters. There is still some protection of privacy in this country after all. Let Phelps go on TV or make a speech in Yankee stadium, but get him away from private funerals, fer cryin’ out loud.

    P.S. This is why we have judges. To make judge-ments.

  7. Phelps is 80 years old. He won’t be troubling us too much longer, although Buddha knows it’s been too long already. When he finally gets “called home,” I hope there are lots of rainbow flags and Village People singalongs at his funeral.

    As for the case, I’d like nothing better than to make life difficult for Phelps and his bunch. But the cost is too high to deny his rights. There’s nothing we can do to them that makes them look worse than they do to themselves. We’re better off shining a light on them than trying to throw a blanket over them.

  8. I live in St Louis and I’m pretty much surrounded by moderate to very conservative Christians. Most of whom get very queasy when Phelps appears in the media. I’m very strongly in favor of them being confronted with the extreme segments of their belief system in a way that makes them very uncomfortable. I believe it’s a moderating influence on them. Plus: free speech.

  9. I wouldn’t be free to stalk some girl and tell her I’m going to rape her corpse would I? This should be the same sort of thing.

  10. Throw me in with the rest of the group today. It’s disgusting to watch but I don’t feel comfortable restricting speech. I don’t know enough about what constitutes abuse- but this has to be close, right? My jaw dropped when I heard these children spewing such vitriol. I think it’s fine that states have put in place laws that limit the right to picket at a funeral but I wonder how that would hold up in court.

  11. @jblumenfeld:

    Let Phelps go on TV or make a speech in Yankee stadium, but get him away from private funerals, fer cryin’ out loud.

    If the graveyards are private property, the game changes. We can’t chase them off the road near the entrance, but the owners can keep them off the property itself.

    But if we’re talking about something like Arlington National Cemetery… I don’t know.

  12. @Skept-artist: I couldn’t bring myself to watch the video. I recall watching something similar a few years ago and choose not to re-pollute my neural synapses’.

    @phlebas: I’d find a Village People costume and show up for that funeral in a second!

  13. @SkepLit: The thing is, Skeplit, his community is… central Kansas. Yeah, Topeka generally isn’t thought of as being as conservative as, say, Manhattan, but that’s like saying Mussolini isn’t thought of as being as fascist as Hitler… just ’cause it’s thought of that way doesn’t mean it’s so. While I don’t think most Topekans support him, I also don’t think they’re willing to spend the time and effort fucking with him that would be necessary… since he apparently has a number of lawyers in his whacko family.

  14. i think there’s a line between free speech and harassment. i don’t think we should try to stop them from expressing their views publicly, but, i don’t think it’s necessarily unconstitutional to place limits on them when it comes to harassing mourning families at funerals.

    as far as what the court will decide, well, i would hope that in a climate where it is acceptable to relegate political protesters at big conventions to designated “free speech zones”, it’ll be seen as equally acceptable to keep these nutjobs away from funerals.

  15. So, I definitely think that Phelps has the right to say these things, but the right to say them to or in front of the family at the funeral strikes me as something a little bit different. I mean, if I had someone’s phone number and called them up once a day to tell them what I’m wearing (hint: it’s crotchless) I imagine I would suffer some legal repercussions from that, with very little question about my rights to free speech.

    So I think he has the right to do it, and I’d probably even say he has the right to do it at the cemetery the day before or after the funeral. But it’s doing it in front of the family during the funeral is where I see it crossing the line from speech to an act of aggression and harm against someone else.

  16. When Bob Hope died the Phelps clan came out with their signs and stood on the corner to protest and to let everyone know that Bob Hope was in hell and was a fag enabler. We bought a huge roll of brown butcher paper and wrote on it in huge letters, “Honk if you think Fred Phelps is a jerk”. We raised the sign (that wrapped around the street corner) and covered their signs. The horns started blaring. They went home.

    Maybe we should just pass out big rolls of paper and sharpies at high profile funerals.

  17. As much as I detest these people and their methods I think the 1st amendment trumps all.

    I don’t want to make concessions in my rights just to quiet these scum bags. They are not worth it.

    That said I think their cruelty should be actionable in civil courts.

  18. Here in Canada we have free speech but that doesn’t extend to publicly promoting hatred.

    I’ve never considered how that might affect Phelps if he were Canadian but I’d assume he’d be shut down as quickly as our neo-nazi’s have been.

    These people can still congregate and share their ideas but promoting hatred in public is unacceptable up here.

  19. I don’t have any legal training, but agree that there are already restrictions on free speech, and this seems to me to speech that should be included. They don’t seem to be even attempting to argue for anything, just state that everyone else is going to hell.

    I don’t know if I can even state my own feelings for them. If they ever crossed my path, well, this is a group the world would be better off without. The adults, anyway.

  20. If only the supreme court could rule that they’re “not looking” and that it would be “terrible if something happened to the phelpses with a baseball bat”.

    Barring that, I think if we can just get two dudes to blow each other at Fred’s funeral it might be a little closer to even.

  21. @Amy. You action was the correct one. It is really up to us saner US citizens to neutralize protests put on by the Phelps clan. You and groups like the Patriot Guard Riders have the right idea. The second take away one of their rights they become martyrs. Besides we really want to give loons like Phelps and his gang all of the rope in which to hang themselves with. Every time they stage a protest they weave another foot of hanging rope.

  22. @macleod57: i absolutely agree that we should step in, regardless of what the courts decide. a few years ago, the phelps had announced they were going to show up at a funeral here in town, and i took off work for the afternoon to go down to the church to counter protest. they never did show up.

  23. @macleod57: however, i would argue that i really don’t think anyone will see them as martyrs when/if their right to harass mourning families at funerals are curtailed. it’s just douchey, and everyone knows it.

  24. If the funerals are on private property, then Phelps has no right to protest there. He can say whatever he damn well pleases on his own property or anyone else’s property that will tolerate him. Freedom of speech means he can say whatever he wants, but it doesn’t mean that anyone has to listen to him.

  25. @catgirl: Yes, and they know that so they go stand on the public sidewalk in front of the funeral home where everyone has to see them when they drive in. So everyone is still forced to see them.

  26. @carr2d2: Sadly a few will see them as martyrs and they will get a boat load of TV time claiming that they are just that. I wonder if mingling in with them while having extreme broccoli and crab cake gas would be considered assault?

  27. If anyone wants to protest the Phelps clan, they make many of their picket plans public on their website, though as Carrie mentioned they don’t always show up. Their website is You can’t touch them but you can hold up bigger signs. ;)

  28. @mikerattlesnake:

    I think if we can just get two dudes to blow each other at Fred’s funeral it might be a little closer to even.

    Oooh, nice touch.

    As a living, eternal tribute, we should make sure visitors to his final resting place leave a memorial dildo on his grave. I think the Fred Phelps Memorial Sex Toy Garden would triple tourism to Topeka. I might make a few pilgrimages there myself.

  29. There was a big counter-protest at UVa once after they had advertised they were picketing a production of “The Laramie Project.” They never showed up, and the production got a HUGE turnout. There were “God Hates Shrimp” signs and rows of lit candles and everything… but no Phelps’s. The idea was to shield the theatre patrons from the hateful protest, not to engage with them.

    Although I’m wary of infringing on free speech issues, it is kind of ridiculous that political protesters are shoved off to the side, while these guys still get free reign.

    How can 70 disturbed people (starting with just one, it seems) cause so much of a ruckus?

  30. While I agree that what the Phelps clan do is horrible, they’re very good at tiptoeing as close to the line of the law as the possibly can without stepping over. Fred was a very successful lawyer when he was younger, and as the video says, so are many of the other members of the family. When they protest funerals, they always make sure not to step on private property, and until they do, they’re unfortunately only excercising their free speech. And the day Fred Phelps dies, I hope to be able to join the rest of you protesting his funeral. Oh, and mikerattlesnake: COTW.

  31. @jblumenfeld: Fight them off with humor! It’s really the only thing you can do.

    I wonder, how much money does all that protesting make them? Surely they can’t be successful lawyers if they are always taking time off to be all hate-y. What’s their secret to survival?

  32. I watched a good doc on his family (I think it was one of Louis Theroux’s), and got the impression that Fred was a closeted homosexual with (at least) mild mental illness. Never have I seen an uglier group of people (in every possible way) than his family. On the other hand, they’re the only people who take any of what they say seriously.

    @nicole: the protests don’t raise any money. The phelps men become lawyers to provide the money with the added benefit of protecting the family from legal attacks.

  33. Living in a free society all but guarantees at one time or another someone will do or say something that irratates, inflames or even enrages you. The horrified reaction these freaks get by doing this at the funerals of dead soldiers is exactly the intent, therefore upholding a violation of privacy ruling would be the same as limiting their speech, at least I’m guessing this is how their attorney will argue the case.

    In truth, if they were doing this in front of their own church who would be paying attention?

    The limitations placed on location when it comes to political protests during large political events has more to do with maintaining control than preventing a message. Large groups can disrupt traffic or interfere with attendees’ access to an event; the former is clearly a public nuiscance, the latter is a violation of an one’s right to move about freely in conducting one’s business.

    I feel very badly for the families of the dead who must endure the depraved rantings of these twisted moronic protesters, but the community reactions detailed by other posters are really the only appropriate response. And the sad irony is these utterly heartless, sick protesters end up as the impetus spurring the community to rally around the grieving families of dead soldiers.

    There is a reason the founders saw fit to include protections for certain individual liberties in the Bill of Rights. It’s so easy and natural to say no one should be allowed to say such things at such a time and such a place. Truly, the manifold benefits of free speech are not self-evident.

  34. @jblumenfeld: This is one of my favorite links! I love the “I was promised donuts”, and Rick-roll signs. Total win. If Phelps and his progeny ever came to my neck of the woods, they’d definitely get an ear/eye full right back at them.

    I have to agree about the 1st amendement rights, tho. The only thing to do is drown them out.

    “God hates flags!!!”

  35. @Zapski: hehehehe…COTW

    On a more serious note: I don’t like Phelps. I don’t want him to die, but trust, no tears will be shed when he does. At the time, what he did was legal. It may have been tacky, and spiteful, and disgusting, and [INSERT NEGATIVE ADJECTIVES HERE, AD INFINITUM]. I don’t like his anti-gay message, I don’t like his anti-vetern message, I don’t like his anti-America message. I don’t like anything about about him. All the hate he has for me, I have right back for him. I consider him the scum of the earth.

    All that being said, he was in a legal location. He notified the officials, and was approved. His speech may be reviled, but he still has the right to say it. After this debacle went down, states passed laws increasing the distance from a funeral a protest can be held, so this issue won’t (hopefully) come up again.

    A lot of people confuse private hate speech with public hate speech. Private hate speech says I can’t say I dislike people who roll their toilet paper under in the workplace. That’s haressment. Public hate speech says I can’t try to incite a riot or put a hit out on those who roll their toilet paper under. So, in my not-a-laywer understanding, he’s covered.

    Finally, I think a ruling against Phelps would more harmful to the Gay Rights Movement. I could easily see this used as fodder for the conservatives to motivate their bases because their free speech is under attack by the gays.

    So, while there isn’t enough toothpaste in the world to get the bad taste in my mouth for saying this…I support Fred Phelps.

  36. What I’m confused about is this:
    Why does god hate the shuttle. The other stuff, I can sort of see why the crazy is aimed there, but the shuttle? Really?

  37. The right to free speech protects you from the government. It doesn’t protect you from getting your arse handed to you by a citizen.

    Where I grew up simple assault was a 50 dollar fine. I’d pay somebody’s 50 dollar fine for beating Phelps about the head and shoulders till he cried. No real damage mind you, just an old fashioned whipped ass.

  38. if their god is gonna let them into heaven after acting this way, not sure it (god) is worth worshiping.

    Any atheist IT pros willing to redirect WestB’s web page to someplace like ‘’ ?

    hee hee

    but that would be wrong and we would be no better than they.

  39. The video mentioned that 9 out of 13 (or something) of Phelps’ children preach. Does anyone know if any of Phleps’ children have ever “rebelled” and found rationality? Or at least publicly called their father a dickhead?

  40. Ummmm, where in the bible does it say that you’re allowed to wear cloth of mixed fibers? I say we start a stickler protest group to follow these maroons around and call them out on their biblical bullshit..there’s a lot of rules in the bible. A lot.

    @jblumenfeld: So proud to be from S.F.. My favorite sign from that counterprotest that a friend posted on facebook said “No Fags on The Moon!” carried by a smiling Filipino twink.

    I realize that they’re pretty much breeding a bunch of psychotic lawyers, but for the love of all that’s unholy, can’t someone call CPS? Those kids…

  41. I *believe* that here in lovely Canada, his crew regularly get turned back at the border. This makes me happy, because whatever rights I have as a Canadian, he’s not from here and can’t pretend to hold those same rights.

    As far as it goes, I’m of the same opinion on this as I am on white pride worldwide marches (although listening to that kid say that a fag is basically a jew makes me wonder just how blurry the line that separates them is). Imagine if you will a day where one of these hate groups marched through the town and nobody came. No media, no protestors, no nothing. Just a bunch of creepy jerks marching and chanting to the empty air.

    These groups all thrive on the attention they receive, and that’s how they get new members. They spin even the slightest roadblock put up or act of protest as a huge civil rights issue, and they make themselves out to be the victims. And there are people who will buy it.

  42. Unfortunately I have to support the people advocating a fairly broad view of free speech. As long as they are on public property, and not obstructing access or inciting a riot, there isn’t much legally you can do to stop them. As someone pointed out earlier, once you start limiting free speech based on content, it opens the door for all sorts of protest limitations.

    However, there is nothing wrong with doing what SF did, or what these people do: badass motorcycle guys started going to these funerals and lining up ceremoniously to block the protesters from getting near the families. They rev their engines to drown out the shouts.

  43. @Elvismorte: Louis Theroux has done an amazing special on this show. He mentions some who’ve left the family, but doesn’t really go into it too much. Does mention their excommunication and how theyr’e all treated as being dead to the family.
    This is a great special, its not too often that Theroux appears to seriously struggle, but he does a lot in this one.

  44. Countermeasures are all well and good, but the result is the same as the Phelps protests: pulling attention away from the funeral or event and towards the WBC. They love bad publicity just as much as good. I’d like to see the WBC’s antics be considered to fall under the exceptions for free speech, such as incitement to riot (okay, that one’s a stretch) and defamation of character.

    I realize it’s a little like prosecuting Al Capone for tax evasion.

  45. Oh crap! I just realized that Nate Phelps, who is now an atheist, is speaking in Calgary (that’s in Canada for you non-Canadians) on Sunday about growing up in the Westboro Baptist Church. This should be an interesting chat. Thanks, Center For Inquiry!

  46. After the shooting at Northern Illinois University, the WBC clan came out and protested the funerals of the kids who were murdered because NIU lets gay people give talks at their school and one of the girls had short hair, which is something that only fag-loving Jezebel-lesbians do (Jezebelsbians?).

    One of the nearby suburbs, St Charles, was unable to legally deny WBC the right to protest on public ground, but they were able to call out all the snowplows in the city and park them in front of the church so the mourners couldn’t see the protesters. I thought that was a brilliant and classy move by a city that didn’t have to do anything besides shrug its shoulders and say, “Meh. It’s their right. We can’t stop them.”

  47. @biguglyjim:

    Yes, definitely go see Nate. He came to Atlanta last year for an atheist convention, and he was amazing. Better than Dawkins, who was also there (and was shocked and appalled by Nate’s story). He’s not a professional speaker, but that just made the whole thing seem more raw.

  48. @Elyse: Several years ago, they came an protested an Emporia State University production of The Laramie Project.” No one knew they were coming, so the counter-protest was pretty small. I thought it was funny that all the student’s signs were passages from the Bible about love and tolerance. The play ended up getting a huge standing ovation that I’m not sure that it would have gotten if the Phelps hadn’t shown up.

    As far as the Supreme Court case goes, I don’t think it is about limiting their freedom of speech. I believe it is more about whether you can be held accountable for what you say or any harm caused by your actions. And, I would like to say, as a person from Kansas, I don’t think I’ve ever met a person that agreed with Phelps. I have see a lot of “Phuck Phred” bumper stickers tho.

  49. What I find really dispiriting about the situation is that a counter-protester with a poster showing a nude woman/man would end up on the wrong side of the law. Some folks’ idea of what constitutes obscenity is definitely different from mine.

  50. Maybe the next plane they catch could accidentally be a plane flying to Saudi Arabia. I think their signs would get a nice welcome. Aren’t those Christian children cute (like a coiled rattlesnake).

  51. omg. Those kids don’t even know what the “f” word mean! Total brainwash. Can you imagine growing up in that world and finding out you are gay and to realize that you are the very evil you’ve been hating all these years? I’d imagine that would be a terrifying experience.

  52. @revmatty: Thinking of strange Christians and St. Louis, I’ve spent a bit of time in the area lately, and…did I really see a church that has a big plywood marquee of Elvis carrying a cross on I-70 somewhere between Wentzville and Warrenton? Or was that a White Castle and Imo’s induced hallucination?

    Still, thirty years is enough time for weird apocryphal stories to pop up. Maybe it’s just a Christian splinter group that will develop into the next big religion.

    Oh, and I’m all for anyone being able to say any damn fool thing they like. The Phelps’s already have a martyr complex, there is no reason to give them a tangible reason for it.

  53. If screaming at somebody that their dead son/daughter/husband/wife/sister/brother is going to hell isn’t harassment, what is? And stalking them by following them to a funeral to do it? Really?

    It’s illegal, and should be treated as such.

    In no way can I conceive that losing the “right” to protest at a funeral would negatively affect the population in any meaningful way. I freely and gladly give it up.

    In the meantime, counter protests should be organized en masse.

  54. @“Other” Amanda: Yeah, I feel like it is some type of harassment too. I think that we need to protect free speech I just hope there is a way to stop these people from the emotional harm they inflict upon people that otherwise would have no contact with them. Not to mention the fact that they freely admit to hate. They even announce their intentions to cause harm by filing for a permit to picket. Seems like a form of terrorism disguised as religious freedom to me. Or at the very least an emotional hate crime.

    And let them play the martyr role for a while after a judgement against them. Who cares?When they run out of money they will go away. I really don’t think they have many fans on either side of the fence.

  55. @Amy: As my husband just pointed out to me (as I was on the fence originally), “You can’t just go to a public place and start shouting at gay/lesbian couples that they are going to hell and they are evil and should die. It’s harassment and hate speech, and disturbing the peace. There are already laws against it.”

    The right to assemble *peacefully* should not include the right to shout obscenities at strangers. I bet they claim the travel to hold these protests on their taxes, as well. Makes me sick.

  56. @Trotter Jelly: “I’m all for anyone being able to say any damn fool thing they like.”

    But that’s not what the first amendment guarantees. I can’t walk up to you and tell you that I want to fuck you in your eye socket until you stop breathing. You can’t go in the news and try to ruin my life by making unverified claims that I beat my students. There are legal consequences to these kinds of speech.

    And the WBC should not be able to harass somebody’s family by saying the things they do. If it’s not already illegal, it should be.

  57. The answer is clear: have people in the community declare that the bug-eyed, hateful s**t that the protesters spew is obscene. Let’s have the people of Kansas stand up and say either that the content of the message is acceptable to them (in the sense of community standards for obscenity) or it is not.

    This story is a great juxtaposition for the one about an (I thought) artistic and tastefully executed snow sculpture in New Jersey. A well-executed nude, a little too crude in terms of craftsmanship (though, hey, it’s F-ing snow) for a modern art museum, is shut down by the low arm of the law, but the mouth-frothing hysteria espoused by the WBC is protected free speech?

    I, hesitatingly, admit that I think that the WBC has a right to say horrible shit on public walkways (as long as they are not obstructing lawful traffic). But really (seriously) it is a crime in most of this nation for a woman to not cover her breasts in public??? Women have breasts. The religious right, islamic and hebrew fundamantalists, and others are free to look away, but really: Human Women Have Breasts!

    In the same vein, human men have penises (generally visible on a nude), human women have vaginas (usually not visible on standing/reclining figures). The shape of people is not obscene!! I defy the right of anyone to hold an opposing opinion.

    I happen to like some depictions of people in the act of trying to make more people (or having fun, whatever). Perhaps those are amenable to restriction, but the way humans are formed through the process of evolution, should not be subject to religiously-inspired censorship…

    My $0.02.

  58. @“Other” Amanda: Yes, threats and slander are not protected speech. The WBC is engaged in political speech, however vague and incoherent it may be. They are also careful to stay within the law in their protests.

    I would also say that protesting military and gay funerals in the fashion they do is stunningly rude, mean, and insensitive. It’s not harassment, though. It’s little different than the religious trying to use a loved one’s death as a tool to convert me or you.

    Unfortunately, ostracism won’t work on the WBC, they revel in being ostracized. Their bad and unthinking theology lets them use it as justification.

  59. preach your message anywhere you want. except at someone’s funeral. that’s emotionally abusive. people have the right to a period of grieving in peace.

  60. Some random thoughts as a former “insider” (my personal history is steeped in fundamentalist evangelicalism):

    In a way, Phelps is more honest that many Christians. The God of the Old Testament seems to hate much as Phelps does; routinely wiping out entire populations whose sin seems more to do with geography than anything else. Mega-church evangelicals tend to hand-wave this away in favor of their carefully sanitized Jesus-God.

    As to the court case, the question being considered is an important one. I hope the decision is a careful consideration of the actual question, not of the douche nozzle at the center of the case. Justices are humans, after all, and were I one of them, I would certainly have a hard time coming down on the side of Phelps even if that was the “right” decision.

    I am also hopeful that wider publicity of Phelps and his weird little band of followers will push people out of churches at an even faster rate than they are leaving now. Phelps is likely the best argument for atheism that has come along in a generation or more.

  61. Yeah, harassment laws are pretty clear, and these people have been hiding behind religious freedom and free speech for years. If they’re screaming into the face of a grieving widow/parent about how they deserved it, that’s naked harassment.

  62. It’s a moot point. Fred has committed enough crimes and abuse to his family, physically and emotionally, that he should be behind bars

  63. I don’t believe that harrassing bereaved people at a private funeral is free speech. That’s just being an a**h***. I believe that people have an inherent right to be treated with respect, especially when they are grieving. And what the Phelpses are doing to their kids is child abuse, whether it’s legally defined that way or not.

  64. @“Other” Amanda: Okay, I can see harassment in the sense of an attempt to cause distress, I was thinking of harassment in different terms before. I’d also say that regardless of whether the funeral attendee believes in hell, portraying the deceased as deserving of eternal punishment, or any punishment for that matter, is a terrible thing to say. This is something that would quite reasonably get you kicked out of a funeral.

    How is this assault?

  65. Been trying to get some perspective on WBC for well over a decade now.
    I tend to agree that he is mentally ill, and with the stories his (escaped) children tell I have no idea why the kids in the WBC haven’t been pulled out by family services.
    As for the protests, while I again agree that this should fall under the category of harassment and be prosecutable – my experience is that it means a great deal to grieving families and to us random gays and lesbians when the local community mounts a counter-protest.
    Several people I’ve talked to said the worst thing about the WBC is when there is no protest and it appears that by this silence people are agreeing with them.

  66. Personally, I think Phelps is dangerously insane and should be institutionalized. I’ve seen him in person and he’s just a wacko in every sense of the word.

    I wonder if his family (especially the kids) are salvagable and would be able to enter polite, reasonable society?

  67. Hmmm…. intentional infliction of emotional distress? At a patriot’s funeral? How fast do you think your average jury would vote damages on that?

    It’s already permissible for cities and states to set limits on where speech may be uttered – seems to me that a municipal code requiring a 500 foot distance between funerals and protesters would be no more restrictive, in a 1st Amendment sense, than restrictions on adverts for cigarettes w/in 500 feet of a school.

    I vote for counter-protests that surround the Phelpses with very large American flags and play the national anthem, taps and This Land is Your Land just loud enough to drown them out. Or coming up to them dressed modestly, declare they are true children of God, and offering the adults lemonade laced with LSD. But I never said that.

  68. Very interesting discussion.

    I see the point about local restrictions that already exist. I’m torn about whether something like that should apply to Phelps and his traveling neurotics.

    I’m not a hyper-paranoid libertarian who’s constantly checking for black helicopters or minicams in my toothpaste. But I don’t like the precedent of creating legislation to keep people from being offended. The ban on cigarette advertising within 500 feet of a school is (IMHO) silly, but I can see where they’re coming from with it.

    Forcing a minimum distance between protestors and funerals seems like a big stick. What is the right distance? If it’s not far enough, it’ll do no good. If it’s too far, you run the risk of making other businesses in the area immune from protestors. That would suck if there was a Scientology building next door.

    And what about wakes? Are we talking only the graveside service in a cemetery, or a service inside a church 10 miles away?

    I’ve never seen the WBC protests in person. Are they loud? Or are they just there with the signs? Do they actually get up in people’s faces, like the clowns who protest at abortion clinics?

    And if a city or state manages to make themselves Phelps-proof, how long before someone gets offended by the KKK? (Not long, I’d wager.) Or a group of atheists? I am quite sure Ed Buckner and friends offended some when they protested Gov. Purdue’s Rain Prayers a couple years ago.

    Like I said, I’m not a rampaging paranoid, but the echoes from hitting things with big sticks can reach unintended audiences. I am happy causing discomfort to Fred Phelps, but legislation has a knack for getting applied to other people.

  69. for those curious about the inner-workings of the phelps clan, this link is essential and mind-blowing:

    it’s a huge, in-depth article about the family and it’s way darker and more detailed than the theroux piece. it’s well worth the time it takes to read. the important things to take away:

    –the “church” is really just the family members and their children. no one actually listens to these people.

    –the “church” continues to exist only because of a cycle of horrific emotional and physical child abuse. the details are jaw-dropping. but essentially each member of that family has been literally beaten into submission and has paid that abuse forward to their own children. it’s hard to say if that chain will ever end…

    –they make their money with frivolous lawsuits and by abusing the court system. it’s actually a pretty brilliant scam: go to law school, sue everyone for everything, and even when you’re 100% wrong you’ll get nice-sized settlements because everyone knows that you’re crazy and will drag them through court forever. also, piss people off to the point where they attack you or invade your legal rights in some way and then sue the crap out of them and make money off the encounter. and if anyone ever tries to meddle with your life by investigating charges of child abuse, fight them off with lawsuits and keep the fortress secure. the details of how they do it are darkly fascinating…i can’t recommend the article enough.

    –these people are insane. i don’t mean that as a way of writing them off, i mean clinically. there is no way that any doctor would ever give them a clean bill of emotional health. between the religious brainwashing and the vicious abuse, they have all snapped.

    so getting mad at them for what they say is kind of pointless. they don’t even know what they’re talking about. “god hates the space shuttle”??? if there was a guy in a tinfoil hat standing on a street corner yelling the same stuff through a megaphone, would you get mad at him? or would you just laugh and shake your head?

    the only difference between these people and the prototypical Street Corner Crazy Guy is that they have nicer signs.

    people should be far more outraged about their abuses of the legal system and should work harder to get the members of the family with law degrees disbarred!

    on a separate note: has anyone ever noticed that crazy homeless people wearing tinfoil hats on busy street corners are never atheists? they’re always shouting about some form of deity or another, never about the lack thereof. if crazy is always tied to religion, wouldn’t the converse also be true…? :)


  70. As much as I hate to say it, Phelps has the right to protest. I hate him (he is one of the few people in the world that I would say that of), and wish he would just crawl into a hole and leave us alone, but there’s not that much chance of that.

    As a side note, Phelp’s clan protested at my high school graduation. One of the students in my graduating class was getting the Matthew Shepard award, so his flunkies were there, holding up signs on the next block from the ceremony. I’m not sure if it makes it better or worse that he didn’t have the guts to show up himself.

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