On Sunday, most of us paid our respects to those who died in the World Trade Center attacks 10 years ago, either in spirit and prayer or in pilgrimage to ground zero for the heartfelt anniversary ceremonies. Some people, however, weren’t feeling as reverent as the rest of us. Instead, they grabbed their megaphones and painted their signs and marched in protest of the events that, for some, served as a means of celebrating the lives of loved ones lost all too soon on September 11, 2001.
Those protestors are members of the Westboro Baptist church, a Christian organization based in Kansas that, earlier this year, won a Supreme Court case allowing them to protest the funerals of servicemen and women.
The justification? God hates homosexuals, of course. And since the United States Military allows homosexuals to enlist—the WBC owns the domain Godhatesf***.com, which I have censored by my own volition here and will continue to throughout the piece no matter the context—the WBC will protest the funerals of people who go off to war to defend the right to, well, have their funerals protested.
It’s a total Catch 22 of — as Americans, we are free to hate whomever we please, whenever we please. Don’t like it? You’ll get protested against, too, for trying to limit the rights we were born with as Americans.
What makes the WBC so odd, aside from their puritanical ideologies seemingly pulled from the pages of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, is that the organization is also anti-American. According to the Godhatesf*** site, the September 11 attacks were a warning and sign of “His [sic] mighty hand.” The group not only supported the attacks on the World Trade Center, but also said that prayer for the deceased furthers America’s need for repentance for unspecified sins.
“What america [sic] needs more than air to breathe and water to drink is a spirit of humility and repentance,” a post outlining the weekend protests on Godhatesf***.com protests reads. “Put away your idolatry (flag and military worship.) [sic] Put away your adultery (divorce and remarriage.) [sic] Put away your murder (abortion.) [sic] Put away f** marriage.”
Similar protests have gone on for years, mainly because the WBC doesn’t limit itself to just protesting military funerals—after all, God hates homosexuals as well as their supporters. In 2008, the group protested the funeral of actor Heath Ledger, who portrayed a homosexual in the wildly successful 2005 film Brokeback Mountain. Later that year, the organization protested the arrival of Pope Benedict XVI—whom they have nicknamed the “The Godfather of Pedophiles” due to the Catholic church’s sex scandals under his papacy — in New York City.
And this past weekend, the WBC set its sights upon New York once again, initially protesting Fashion Week (to picket homosexuals and sexually promiscuous women), but moving on to prayer services and other ceremonies centered around the 10th anniversary of the September 11 attacks.
There is no cause I value in life greater than the defense of the First Amendment. It is the reason the United States is so different from every other nation in the world, the right so many people throughout history have given their lives to defend. There is a quote, generally attributed to Voltaire, which states: “I may disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” I first heard that quote in high school. Since then, it’s become my personal creed.
Part of living in America, and having the rights which come with American citizenship, is having the knowledge of when to exercise those rights and when to show restraint. This past weekend was most certainly a time to show restraint.
I supported friends who displayed anger toward the WBC for their protests, friends who value that First Amendment just as highly as I do — friends that wanted to go down to Manhattan on Sunday and protest against the protestors. I’m not sure whether they actually went. I didn’t – I didn’t want there to be any more distractions from the day’s initial purpose of commemorating the departed — but the fact that the issue was important to them was, if nothing else, comforting.
People will continue to fight in the future for the freedom to speak their minds. It is the single most important lesson an institution of higher learning can instill upon its student body. Express yourself. Speak your mind. Fight for what you believe in.
But the world doesn’t exist in black and white, nor do the rights and laws that govern this nation. The Westboro Baptist Church had no reason to be at the ceremonies commemorating those who gave their lives on September 11. The WBC took a day meant for mourning and remembrance and bent it to their ideological agenda, solely because as Americans — a distinction they are ashamed to share with the millions of people who live in this country—they were legally allowed to. That is something I cannot defend.