The group, lead by Rev. Fred Phelps and consisting mainly of his parishioners at Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas, claims that war casualties, mining accidents, and just about any other untimely death is God's wrath resulting from US tolerance for gays. I'll pause for a moment so you can think that one through.
That's right. Not only do we have the likes of Pat Robertson claiming to the world that Hurricane Katrina was God's punishment for sinful behavior, but now we have Phelps and his ilk staging protests at the memorial service for 12 miners killed in the West Virginia tragedy. There have always been crackpots like this, but is there a reason we must give them air time?
What concerns me, though, is the move by five states to ban protests at funerals. Don't get me wrong, I don't advocate protesting at emotionally charged, private events where grieving families are gathered. I do object to anything that tampers with the right of the people to peacefully assemble, however. That's the reason I never advocated law enforcement officials preventing Cindy Sheehan from staging her protests, as much as I disagree with her message and think she was hurting our troops. People have a right to protest and stage demonstrations, regardless of their point of view. What most people need to realize, though, is simply having the right to do something does not mean that you should do it.
I'm sure everyone agrees that there is a line that should not be crossed. I'm also positive that none of us will agree on where that line is. All I can tell you is that, as a constitutional originalist, I certainly do not want the government drawing that line. That means that we must put up with people like Reverend Phelps, regardless of how ridiculous his views may be, regardless of how tasteless his methods are, regardless of how insensitive and downright offensive his protests are.
That's the challenge of our Constitutional Rights. It's all too easy to demand "there ought to be a law" when we see this type of outrageous behavior. For those with common sense, it's easy to see that Phelps has clearly crossed the line and is abusing his First Amendment right to peacefully assemble. Unfortunately, any attempt to ban his nonsense weakens, not Phelps, but rather the Constitution of the United States.
As to what to do with Phelps, simply start your stopwatch. His fifteen minutes should be up shortly.
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