Folks from the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, KS, recently made a visit to the campus of Michigan State University in East Lansing just to say hello and spread their good cheer. Nice signs! Colorful. Readable. All the words are spelled correctly, even the challenging, three-syllable IMMINENT.
Actually, these people are anything but dumb. The church, which claims about a hundred members and is led by Rev. Fred Phelps, is a smart operation. Of his thirteen children, eleven have law degrees; most are members of the church, as are a host of in-laws and grandchildren. They’ve successfully defended their first amendment right to free speech before the Supreme Court. They sue towns that try to prevent them from picketing churches, schools, businesses, and anyone else they suspect who are not obeying God as they believe God should be obeyed
They picket funerals of U.S. soldiers because they believe America is morally bankrupt for acknowledging the rights of the homosexuals. Every body bag and every flag-draped coffin is another sign of God’s anger with us.
Only four picketers from Westboro showed up on the MSU campus. Across the street, a couple hundred students and community residents waved their own signs and held an oft-times joyous counter-protest. If the battle was about numbers, the Topeka folks got slammed.
I imagine the Westboro folks don’t see it that way. They accomplished what they set out to do. The police were there to protect them. Photographers, like me, pointed cameras at them. Reporters did what reporters do. They got their publicity.
They will continue their “love to hate” message. They will continue to exploit their first amendment right and noisily disrupt the funerals of anyone they choose, denying grieving families the right to quietly bury their loved ones.
But they won’t win. They might know the law, but they don’t know the power of love. Heck, they can’t even win the “Best Sign” contest. Here are a couple of my favorites from the college crowd.