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Editorial: Westboro Baptist Church just looking to get reaction when they hit town
Qween Amar from Orlando, Fla., left, dances by Margie Phelps, right, a member of the Westboro Baptist Church, outside the Supreme Court in Washington, Tuesday, March 26, 2013, where the court will hear arguments on California’s voter approved ban on same-sex marriage, Proposition 8. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
It was the playwright George Bernard Shaw who said, “I learned long ago, never to wrestle with a pig. You get dirty, and besides, the pig likes it.”

That wise admonition is one we hope area residents will take to heart next Sunday when representatives of Westboro Baptist Church bring their hate-filled protests to town.

It’s hard to imagine any group of people more piggish and fond of the dirt than the few congregants of Westboro, who have turned vile protests and hateful demagoguery into a way of life and a steady revenue stream for their so-called church.

In case you have been fortunate enough to have never heard of the Westboro group, consider yourself lucky. It’s hard to become familiar with their antics without feeling as though you need a shower after doing so.

Based in Kansas, the few members who comprise Westboro traverse the countryside looking for opportunities to preach an anti-gay gospel via protests and demonstration. One of their favorite tactics is to demonstrate at the funerals of American soldiers, saying when they do so that God allows deaths among the troops as punishment for the nation’s acceptance of gays.

The church, and the term is used loosely, was formed by the late Fred Phelps, whose mission is carried on by members of his family. Their protests are known for especially disgusting signs carried by the membership.

It’s all meant to create a stir, to garner attention, and to prod good, decent people of all religious and political persuasions into a confrontation with protesters.

This is the circus that is coming to Gainesville next Sunday to demonstrate at six of our local churches.

Representatives of Westboro have not said why the group decided to come to our fair city, but we suspect the answer lies in the massive congregation of news media expected to be just a few miles to the South on Super Bowl Sunday. Those news teams will be looking for something to do prior to the big game, and a short ride up the road to cover a protest that may turn ugly would suit the agenda of attention seeking Westboro just fine.

The Kansans are also expected to stage a protest in Atlanta later in the day.

One of the favorite tactics of the Westboro organization is to find a reason to file a lawsuit related to one of its protests. The church has successfully sued government entities for failing to provide adequate security, or for filing criminal charges against demonstrators.

Like the pig that loves to fight in the mud, Westboro loves to go to court in the hopes of securing court-sanctioned money to finance its evil ways. Nothing would serve the Westboro cause better than a public confrontation that provided the foundation for a lawsuit against Gainesville or Hall County in which they could argue their right to free speech had been ignored.

So what should we do?

Nothing.  Absolutely nothing.

Pretend as though they aren’t here waving their disgusting signs and spewing their words of hate.

The most powerful counterprotest possible in light of a Westboro invasion is no protest at all.

Go to church, but avoid the visitors. Don’t drive by to gawk. Don’t engage them in dialogue. Don’t blow a horn or shout out a window or show up looking for a fight. Don’t put local law enforcement in a position of having to “protect,” the demonstrators from out of town.

The most powerful tool in the arsenal of our community in face of the Westboro protest is to ignore them completely.

Stay away.

The courts have ruled that Westboro has the right of free speech and that the protests, if lawfully permitted, have to be allowed. Sadly, one of those rulings came after the father of a Marine killed in the line of duty in Iraq sued the Kansas church after it picketed his son’s funeral with signs that said things like “Thank God for Dead Soldiers.”  

The father won a lawsuit based on emotional distress in the lower courts, but the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the decision, saying that the constitutionally protected right of free speech favored the demonstrators.

Our U.S. Constitution does, indeed, protect our right to free speech, and for it to mean anything at all it has to protect all speech, not just that most of us would consider to be of value.

But just as we have a protected right to speak out on public issues, we also have a right not to listen, and that’s what we should all do on Sunday. Like the proverbial question about a tree falling in the forest with no one there to hear, let’s see if a protest held on a sidewalk in front of a church makes any difference if there’s no one around to see it.

That George Bernard Shaw guy was pretty smart. In addition to his deep insight into pigs, he also said, “Silence is the most perfect expression of scorn.”

Let’s express our scorn for the people of Westboro perfectly on Sunday.


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