Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Respect should come first before Amendments


We live in a nation where if citizens are concerned with the way government is running we can protest and create new political parties – and not worry about being attacked by military planes overhead or a fear of civil war – as has happened in Libya.

We live in a nation where your voice counts and matters. But what happens when our First Amendment rights are torn down from their honorable place in our society and are twisted in the inaccurate and raging words from organizations such as the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas?

The “Church,” which in my mind operates as purely a meeting place of evil is run by Rev. Fred Phelps and his family. For a church group of less than 100 people they made themselves quite present, as they do in protests, in the media last week when they won a Supreme Court ruling on the First Amendment. The church runs protests and functions as a full blown anti-America propaganda campaign essentially arguing that everything going on in the world is a result of God’s attempt to demonstrate that He hates us and the way we have conducted ourselves on this Earth.

I couldn’t disagree more.

The Supreme Court saga began after Lance Corporal Matthew Snyder, a Marine, was killed on duty in Iraq on  March 3, 2006. His funeral was held seven days later in Westminster, Md. where friends and family prepared to lay the fallen hero to rest. The Westboro Baptist Church published an essay filled with hate against Matthew’s father, Albert Snyder and protested at his son’s funeral claiming that his death was a sign of God‘s hatred for the direction America is headed.

On June 5,, 2006 Snyder brought his largely understandable intolerance for the group to the federal Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Maryland against the church and Fred Phelps for charges of defamation, invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Early this month, the Supreme Court ruled in an 8-1 decision in Snyder v. Phelps that the First Amendment protected the church’s right to picket at funerals. Justice Samuel Alito was the one judge to not tolerate the church’s behavior under any extent of the law.

I’m with Alito.

We are in a war right now currently fighting against extremist political and religious parties along the Pakistan border, in Afghanistan and Iraq. Though I would hope that the Westboro Baptist Church has no intentions of carrying out violent acts against innocent civilians in our country or anywhere else, they are a functioning hate group under the protection of our democracy’s laws. How is the United States to fight hate against minorities, gays and religious diversity abroad if we can’t control those groups’ power in our own nation?

The church uses children as sign holders and message promoters. With colorful signs proclaiming, “God hates America,” and “Go to Hell” in blinding colors, I think this should upset you. They argue that God hates America because of U.S. foreign and domestic policies and gay rights in our country. They claim that we are doomed. Its organizations such as these that are creating a great polarity within our country and after the shooting in Arizona in January, this was evident and true. What America needs is unity and respect for opposing sides, not words of hatred and ignorance.

The URL of their website is so hateful and so unacceptable that it cannot be printed. If you look for images of the Westboro Baptist Church, search results show their signs which proclaim things like, “Thank God for [improvised explosive devices] IEDS.” God didn’t create IEDS. God didn’t create this ideology. It fosters within the ills of society.

I truly believe that though the Supreme Court ruled that the church’s protest and public statements were within the statutes and regulations of the First Amendment – they’ve done a great disservice to what freedom of speech means in our country.

If you have something to dissent to – fine, if you disagree with the current political system in place – great, go run for office. But if you feel as if you can speak for God through signs of hate against gays and blame the wars of the last decade on America’s punishment from God,  pass judgment upon fallen soldiers and proclaim America is doomed, how can you call that a church? It’s a religion of hate that has no place expressing itself in the name of God.

Do I believe that the eight Supreme Court Justices thought that the Westboro Baptist Church is deserving of any merit for winning the case? No. Do I believe that deep down the justices thought this church should win the case? No. Do I know they did it to uphold our rights as citizens to voice our opinions? Sure. While it may be out of the judicial branch’s decisions and legislative branch’s decisions that the places where First Amendment protections are either limited or unlimited are determined and it may be up to us citizens, who make up our democracy to say that we are not okay with Westboro Baptist Church’s role in society and in the media. There is no place for such intolerance in public protest.

Whether or not you believe in God in this case isn’t exactly relevant, politically speaking of course. I am a Christian and it is beyond my comprehension as to how the church can describes itself as following God. The debate is whether or not you believe in respect for everyone; it’s about whether or not you take the law and rights as privileges with the honor and dignity it commands. It’s about understanding that when a solider dies in war for this country, whether or not you support the war and internal issues within the country, that solider doesn’t stand for the country as a whole – that soldier is an individual who dedicated his life towards protecting our country in some form. That solider deserves honor, respect and thanks, and the soldier’s family deserves peace before First Amendment rights are considered.

In an 8-1 Supreme Court ruling, I’m siding with the minority. I’ve decided I am not okay with the lack of responsibility our judicial system showed in executing a logical decision when it came to protecting the rights of grieving family members.

Chelsea Whitton is a Collegian columnist. She can be reached at [email protected].

View Comments (7)
More to Discover

Comments (7)

All Massachusetts Daily Collegian Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  • B

    BrandtMar 14, 2011 at 6:12 pm

    What are Fred Phelps and the WBC afraid of? Rainbows? Unicorns? A flaming pink queer apocalypse? I attempted to address this with a portrait of the good reverend on my artist’s blog at Drop in and let me know what you think!

  • B

    Ben RudnickMar 11, 2011 at 1:21 am

    Why do I get the feeling that Ms. Whitton would argue the exact opposite position if the Supreme Court had just struck down union protestors’ “rights” to hold up signs comparing Republicans to Hitler?


  • B

    bobMar 10, 2011 at 11:29 am

    it’s a good thing that people like you continue to write about these church clowns…if not for people like you, they’d have faded into obscurity a long time ago, but every time they pull their crap, some idiot like chelsea here has to splatter them all over some newspaper, generating free and increasing publicity for them…god forbid you silly little girls could keep your opinion to yourselves for 5 minutes…

  • H

    HenryMar 10, 2011 at 10:01 am

    “How is the United States to fight hate against minorities, gays and religious diversity abroad if we can’t control those groups’ power in our own nation?”

    What power? They’re a bunch of a-holes with signs. If we’d stop talking about them — and writing opeds about them — they might not go away, but it would undercut their efforts to inject this BS into the national conversation. They have exactly as much power as we decide to give them.

    Do they make me uncomfortable? Sure. So does my racist grandma, and I don’t want anyone legislating against her — and I don’t want anyone trying to draw that line, either. Talk is talk. We don’t limit it here.

  • B

    BenjaminMar 9, 2011 at 5:34 pm

    The print edition of the Collegian has a nice Chomsky quote at the top of the op-ed page. It’s too bad the Web edition doesn’t have it too, because the contrast with this column is just perfect.

  • D

    Danny HaszardMar 9, 2011 at 11:21 am

    Harassment by religious extremist

    Jehovah’s Witnesses instigated court decisions in 1942 which involved cursing a police officer calling him a fascist and to get in your face at the door steps,….this same JW 1942 court decision upheld infamous Phelps hate church in 2011
    Danny Haszard

  • M

    MikeMar 9, 2011 at 10:31 am

    The first amendment doesn’t apply where it is convenient to the majority. It is a dangerous game to legislate against what free speech is acceptable and what free speech isn’t. As deplorable as this so called church and their membership is, they have a right to stand there and spout their hatred, just as the Patriot Guard Riders motorcycle organization has a right to drown them out with their love and respect for those who lose their lives overseas. I don’t like it, and I don’t think the supreme court does either, but they made the correct decision.