I’ve been thinking about the Westboro Baptist Church lawsuit, and how it reflects on the difference between something being “right” and something being “legal.”
The facts are these. Headed by Fred Phelps, the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan., is an unaffiliated Christian congregation focusing on one specific doctrine: that God hates all forms of homosexuality and its practitioners, that all homosexuals will burn in hell, and that so will the people who tolerate them.
Phelps’ teachings cast a wide net with regard to that last point. Basically, if you’re not actively persecuting and preaching against gays, you are tolerating them and thus in danger of hellfire. Phelps teaches that the United States is a cursed nation because it allows homosexuality to exist unpunished, and that when soldiers die in Iraq, it’s God’s punishment for America.
Phelps and his 100-member congregation, composed almost entirely of his family members, are infamous for picketing at funerals. They first came to prominence when they marched at gay murder victim Matthew Shepard’s memorial service, carrying signs declaring that Shepard was at that moment burning in hell. In the last few years, they’ve started doing the same thing at soldiers’ funerals, declaring the soldiers also to be in hell — not because they were gay, but because they were fighting for a nation that tolerates homosexuality.
They also picketed the funerals of Coretta Scott King and Mr. Rogers. Yes, Mr. Rogers. I don’t recall the specific reasons, but it definitely related to homosexuality. Everything comes back to homosexuality with Fred Phelps. You’d hear more references to gay sex in one Phelps sermon than you would in watching 10 hours of gay porn. (That figure is approximate.)