An' I don't mind 'em switchin' sides
An' standin' up for things they believe in
When they're runnin' down my country, man
They're walkin' on the fightin' side of me.
Yeah, walkin' on the fightin' side of me
Runnin' down the way of life,
Our fightin' men have fought and died to keep.” — Merle Haggard, "Fightin' Side of Me"
"Thank God for dead Soldiers."
"Fag sin = 9-11."
"God blew up the troops."
If any one of those statements above didn’t make your blood boil, I don’t know what will. Perhaps you’ve heard, but in case you didn’t, on Monday, March 15, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the case of one Fred Phelps and his Topeka, Kansas-based, lunatic fringe Westboro Baptist Church. (HELLO! All you Baptists out there, are you paying attention to what a group is doing to your faith?!)
My feelings towards Phelps run into the unprintable so I’ll stick to the facts here and let you be the judge. Phelps and his group have this nasty habit of showing up at the funerals of fallen service members with signs depicting phrases like those above, and worse. They go out of their way to disrupt the funeral and inflict more pain and suffering on a family laying their loved one to final rest.
The father of one slain Marine, Albert Snyder of York, Pennsylvania took the group to court after they showed up at his son’s funeral. A Maryland federal court ruled in favor of Snyder and awarded him $5 million, but last fall an appeals court reversed the $5 million verdict, ruling the church's protests were protected by the First Amendment.
And now we get to the crux of the issue: free speech. This isn’t about your feelings about homosexuality. This has nothing to do with your beliefs that homosexuality is morally wrong and reprehensible before the eyes of God. This isn’t about you, this isn’t about Fred Phelps, and this isn’t about all the gays and lesbians in this country.
This is about a family’s right to lay their slain loved to rest in peace and with dignity.
Throughout history the courts have determined that while free speech extends along a wide latitude, there is some speech that isn’t covered by that blanket. You can’t yell fire in a crowed room, you can’t incite a riot, and other issues don’t curry favor in the free speech market.
So while I struggle mightily with this — I’m a strong believer in free speech – Fred Phelps doesn’t deserve this protection. He and his group don’t deserve the same protections to spew their hate and vitriol.
Someone, somewhere, I don’t remember exactly, pointed out the public safety aspects of all this, equating the signs of Phelps to yelling fire in a theater. There’s a public safety concern here. This group has already incited violence when it shows up with its signs and they’ve given birth to the Patriot Riders – a group of motorcycle riders that go to these funerals and use their monstrous machines to drown out the protesters.
Yeah, these people are certainly walking on the fighting side of me. Lord knows if they ever showed up at a funeral I was attending, they’d get a hard punch to the nose. I’d probably get arrested but, I’ll tell you what, I’d gladly serve the time.