Saturday, November 17, 2007

Freedom of Speech: a right that should not be abused

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Late last night I read two different pieces of news that left me feeling sad, angry, disgusted and even a little bit confused. The first article I read was about those misguided and heartless individuals who belong to the Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) in Topeka, Kansas. These are the people who profess to believe in God’s word, but then they go out and protest and picket at the funerals of our slain military personnel who have been killed in Afghanistan and Iraq. They hold up hateful signs that read: “Thank God for maimed soldiers” and “Thank God for dead soldiers” and “God hates fags.” These homophobic idiots believe that the United States is being punished by God because of our nation’s supposed tolerance of homosexuality. According to their twisted and obscene logic, this is why our brave men and women are being killed in Afghanistan and Iraq. We, as a nation, are being punished. They also believe that they are entitled to protest at these funerals because of the First Amendment, which guarantees freedom of speech and religion.

One source I read said that these protests by the WBC have taken place in at least 22 states and as a result eleven states have already enacted legislation restricting demonstrations like this at funerals.
More than 30 other states are considering similar legislation. The president also signed a bill that made it a violation of federal law to protest at military funerals at federal cemeteries. Fred Phelps, the head of the WBC, has supposedly vowed that he and his church will challenge all of this new legislation. Good! Maybe it will bankrupt them and they will cease to exist.

Before becoming infamous because of their disrespect to America’s dead military personnel and their grieving families, the members of the WBC were picketing and protesting the funerals of gay people, or people they believed were gay.
One well known case in 1998 involved the funeral of gay murder victim Matthew Shepard, in Wyoming. Shepard’s brutal murder brought national attention to the issue of hate crime legislation at the state and federal levels. At his funeral WBC members held up signs reading: “No Fags in Heaven” and “God Hates Fags.” According to the WBC web site, since 1991 they have staged “over 22,000” protests across America and around the world.

I’m all for freedom of speech, but it has been established long ago that there are definite limits to this cherished right that is guaranteed by our Constitution.
I’m sure most of us are familiar with that well known example that an individual can’t falsely yell “Fire!” in a crowded theatre, if there is no fire. That’s not freedom of speech, that’s a crime! An individual’s freedom of speech is not endless and without any boundaries. And, what about a family’s right to bury their son, or daughter, with dignity and honor? Should they be subjected to the hateful emotions of a few malcontents, who apparently don’t have a clue about what God’s message of love and compassion truly is?

Well, Albert Snyder (God bless him!) sued Phelps and his church after they protested at his son’s funeral last year.
Marine Lance Corporal Matthew Snyder had been killed in Iraq. Mr. Snyder claimed that the church’s protest intruded upon what should have been a private ceremony and it sullied and forever corrupted his memory of that somber event. A jury agreed and on Wednesday the church and its leaders, including Phelps, were found liable for invasion of privacy and intent to inflict emotional distress. These pathetic morons, who smiled as they walked out of the courtroom, were ordered to pay nearly $11 million in damages to a father who is still grieving over the loss of his son. The WBC members vowed that the verdict would not deter them from conducting more protests at future military funerals.

I visited the WBC web site (I want to know what hate groups and other sickos are up to) and I looked at their upcoming schedule for future protests.
Almost all of them were reference gay churches and organizations, but they did have one non-gay protest scheduled for November 10, 2007 in Washington, D.C. This protest will be at the Vietnam Memorial's 25th Anniversary Parade either at, or near, the National Mall. There was also the following disgusting comment: "This is a major squall and worship the dead who served with honor (Barf!) fest.” I imagine this comment will anger many of the brave men and women who served so valiantly in that brutal war so long ago.

At the beginning of this post I said I was sad, angry, disgusted and a little confused.
I’m sad that an obnoxious and arrogant person like Fred Phelps, who is obviously a cold and uncaring human being, can have such a huge negative impact on so many people’s lives. Regardless of what a person’s feelings are about this war in Iraq and/or Afghanistan, the men and women of our military are ALL heroes and they don’t deserve to be dishonored in the cruel way that Phelps and his gang of brainwashed disciples have done. I know that there will always be the Fred Phelps of this world, who will make it a hell here on earth, and we just have to live with them and do the best that we can. But, it is still sad, and disgusting, just the same.

You bet! For the record, I am not gay. I never have been and I don’t plan on changing. But, I’ve spent my entire law enforcement career trying to do the right thing and I know it’s not right to hate a person just because they are gay. This is wrong. How can Phelps, who professes to be a man of God, believe and preach the ugly hateful things that he does? I guess this is one of the places where I am a little confused.

When the jury awarded Mr. Snyder the nearly $11 million, they specifically ordered $2.9 million in compensatory damages and then another $8 million in punitive damages.
Juries don’t usually award punitive damages unless they are convinced that a person’s conduct was so egregious that it warrants that person being punished. That’s why they’re called “punitive” damages. Well, Phelps and his immoral band of hate mongers have been ordered to pay $8 million. That’s a lot of punishment! But, it’s also, in my humble opinion, well deserved. Unfortunately, if Phelps is anything like the elusive O.J., he’ll find numerous ways to avoid paying. In fact, they’ve already begun and he and his other cohorts are now apparently claiming that they don’t have the money to pay. The total assets of the WBC and the other defendants are supposedly less than a million dollars (mainly in homes, cars and retirement accounts). The church reportedly has about 75 members and it is mostly funded by tithing. Gee, I wonder, where did they get all that money to pay for those “22,000” protest trips?

When Mr. Snyder heard the jury’s verdict he reportedly sobbed.
His lawsuit was never about the money and he hopes the success of his suit will encourage other families of the fallen, who have been victimized by the WBC, to also sue. As far as Phelps is concerned, he is confident the jury’s award will be overturned on appeal. I hope, and pray to God, he’s wrong!

One of Mr. Snyder’s attorneys, Sean Summers, reportedly said that they would go after Phelps and get the money from him, wherever it is.
"We will chase them forever if it takes that long,” he said. I hope that attorney is part bloodhound, because I suspect it’s going to be a long and difficult pursuit. Fred Phelps, who was an attorney himself, was disbarred by the Kansas Supreme Court in 1979. They asserted that he had “little regard for the ethics of his profession.” Although he originally continued to practice law in Federal courts, he eventually ran afoul of the Federal courts too and in 1989 he agreed to surrender his license to practice law in Federal court. So, I’m sure this man knows the legal system well, and he and his lawyers will do everything they can to avoid having to pay Mr. Snyder the judgment the jury says he deserves.

Earlier in the day, apparently before the jury’s verdict was announced, WBC members staged a demonstration outside the federal courthouse.
The small group reportedly wasn’t well received and passing motorists shouted insults and blew their horns. It may have been because one of the group (one of Phelps’ daughters) stood on an American flag as she carried a sign proclaiming “God hates fag enablers.” Or, maybe it was because members of the group sang “God Bless America” BUT, they changed those powerful words to “God Hates America."

People like Fred Phelps are a cancer to the very fabric of what makes America the great nation it is, and I believe ALL of us should take a stance against such hateful and vicious individuals.
The fight to get Phelps to pay what he should will be a long one, just like it has been with the O.J. saga. I, for one, feel so strongly that Phelps should pay, that I wouldn’t even mind contributing financially to this effort myself.

Oh, what was that second news article I read, that caused me to think about this entire issue of how some people treat and/or honor our dead military personnel?
Well, General Paul Tibbets, who was a Colonel when he piloted the B-29 bomber that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, has died. He was 92. Before Tibbets transferred to the Pacific and flew B-29s, he flew B-17s over Europe. Tibbets unit in England was the 97th BG, which supposedly even served as a model for the famous World War II action movie Twelve O’Clock High. Tibbets was even reportedly depicted in that movie. He flew 25 missions in B-17s and this included the first American Flying fortress raid against occupied Europe. Later, he was in Algeria leading the first bombing mission in support of the Invasion of North Africa. But, without question, Tibbets is best known and remembered for that single mission on August 6, 1945, in the empty skies over Hiroshima, Japan. The exact number of people killed by that one bomb (Little Boy) will never be known for sure, but it is thought that approximately 230,000 people probably perished, from either the initial blast that consumed most of the city, and in subsequent years from Toxic radiation.

Before he died General Tibbets may have been thinking of the Fred Phelps’ of this world, because he apparently left instructions that he wanted no funeral, and no headstone.
He feared that if he were laid to rest in the ground this would provide his detractors, and there are many, with a place to protest. He didn’t want this, so he requested that he be cremated and his ashes be scattered over the English Channel. He loved flying over the Channel.

General Tibbets was probably right.
I’m sure idiot Phelps and his mindless blog of followers would have protested at General Tibbets grave, if given the opportunity to do so. After all, Tibbets named his B-29 the “Enola Gay” – after his mother. Even though her middle name was Gay, I don’t believe she was gay herself. But, I’m sure that wouldn’t stop someone like Fred Phelps.

This stirring of my emotions, and my intense desire to see that justice is done in this case, has made me realize one other thing, as well.
In addition to being sad, angry, disgusted and confused, I find myself just a little bit ashamed of myself too. I admit I’ve heard of Phelps’ WBC before, as well as some of their gay-bashing activities, yet it wasn’t until they began to dishonor our military heroes that this became a BIG issue for me personally. I realize now, long after I should have, that we ALL need to confront hate mongers like Phelps immediately. We should not wait. No matter what their twisted cause and agenda, we should not wait until they actually attack and hurt us personally, or those we love and respect. This is the valuable lesson I learned from this whole disgusting and nauseating affair.

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