(This is a column I wrote back in 2005 for the Daily Item of Lynn when the Westboro Baptist Church picketed the funeral of a local soldier -- Sgt. Christopher Piper of Marblehead, MA -- was killed in Afghanistan.
In light of Wednesday's Supreme Court ruling upholding the organization's right to picket military funerals, I felt it was worth repeating here)
Where is the outrage?
I will be brutally honest. What I wanted – after hearing that people from the so-called Westboro Baptist Church planned on using the funeral of Staff Sgt. Christopher Piper as a forum to advance its twisted, anti-gay agenda -- was for Christian leaders to rise up and condemn these people.
Perhaps some of them did … but not nearly enough of them. Priests and ministers should have come out in great numbers to protest that this is neither the Christianity nor the God that they choose to follow. They should have been visibly distancing themselves from any attempt, by any group, to foist this type of intolerance on people in the name of God – and especially at such a tragic time as this.
Jonathan Weiner, a high school friend of Staff Sgt. Piper, eloquently wrote in this paper Monday that regardless of your views on this “war on terrorism,” it is imperative that we properly acknowledge, and thank, the soldiers who have paid the ultimate price for defending the United States of America. That should go without saying. Yet this Westboro Baptist group decided to use the highly solemn and tragic funeral of a fallen soldier as an opportunity to spread fear, hatred and intolerance.
I understand the first amendment allows this. And believe me, the irony of a hero such as Staff Sgt. Piper dying in Afghanistan so that haters here can picket his funeral with despicable signs is certainly not lost on me.
But doesn’t the first amendment also guarantee the right to disagree as visibly as this group demonstrates? I should think so. Fair is fair. And why should people whose conception of Christianity, and of God, allow for love and tolerance marginalize themselves because it might seem “undignified” to respond to such a group as the Westboro Baptist Church?
Perhaps Staff Sgt. Piper’s funeral was not the proper time to address these concerns. That’s understandable. But there was plenty of time before – and all the time in the world now – for Christian leaders to rise up and condemn this type of hate. Where are they?
I suppose it IS rather undignified to go belly to belly with such slime. But tell me: is the hate dignified? Is it any more dignified to allow such evil to present itself in broad daylight without SOME kind of a response?
Haven’t we all seen what can happen when such twisted hate is allowed to fester until it becomes uncontrollable? That’s why soldiers such as Staff Sgt. Piper were overseas in the first place: because irrational, religion-inspired hatred resulted in one of the most heinous acts of modern civilization. Haven’t we learned from that? Shouldn’t we be on our guards to confront such hatred, and speak out against it, at every turn? If not, then why not?
The fact that there are hate groups out there who seize every opportunity to advance their agendas isn’t exactly a news flash. But the growing plethora of people who do so in the name of God and religion is alarming. And worse, it seems to be creeping more and more into the mainstream.
It makes our founding fathers seem clairvoyant in their attempts to keep religion out of government affairs … and vice versa. For everyone who whines about how the government is turning its back on God because prayer isn’t allowed in public schools, or because we engage in debate over whether the Ten Commandments belong on the wall of a courthouse, I give you the Westboro Baptist Church and its screeds about how God is punishing the U.S. because of its tolerance toward homosexuality.
Where do you draw the line? It’s tough to tell these days which religions are worth embracing as legitimate, and which ones are just fronts for hate groups to spread fear and intolerance. And to me, it’s far better to keep ALL religions at arm’s length (at least where their direct influence over government affairs is concerned) than to engage in time-consuming debates over which ones have merit and which ones don’t.
It’s becoming sadly evident that all religions have the potential to be corrupted by their power structures, and that very often, that’s exactly what happens. The laws that govern some religions seem to have less to do with individual spiritual fulfillment than with holding power and sway over large groups of people.
And this becomes so sadly apparent when a group like the Westboro Baptist Church can horn in on a tragic circumstance to advance its skewed beliefs about God’s love (or lack of love) for homosexuals … and there’s no forceful outcry to condemn them.
I expected better.