HATE HAS NO PLACE AT A SOLDIER’S FUNERAL

Funerals are different. Funerals are for private grieving. And, therefore, funerals, at times, should be off-limits.

Especially to a warped organization such as the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan., which goes around protesting at funerals, jeering and waving signs that say “God Hates You.”

The folks from Westboro – 75 people in the congregation – have been doing this for years, especially if the dead had some homosexual connection.

But now they are focused on U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq. Not gay soldiers. Any soldiers. They recently came to Michigan, to protest the funeral of a soldier from the Flint area. And they had plans, as this column went to press, to be in Flushing over the weekend for another soldier killed when his Humvee hit a land mine. He was 26, with a wife and daughter.

Here is how the Westboro people referred to him on their Web site: He died “from wounds the Lord his God inflicted upon him. … (He) volunteered to serve a nation that hates God. …What more evidence do you need to tell you he’s in Hell?”

‘God’s weapon of choice’

I spoke last week during a radio interview with Shirley Phelps-Roper, the church’s attorney and the daughter of its pastor, the Rev. Fred Phelps.

“Our position,” she told me, “is that this nation has sinned away her day of grace … that the wrath of God is pouring out on this nation. … You turn this country over to the fags, now your children are coming home in body bags.”

When I asked why funerals, she said that roadside bombs in Iraq were “God’s weapon of choice” and therefore her group must protest dead soldiers’ funerals “to help you connect the dots.”

Personally, I don’t need help connecting the dots. It’s a pretty straight line from hate to stupidity.

But it’s a crooked path from rights to right. The protesters’ rights to free speech – which, by the way, is part of what our soldiers fight and die for – don’t supercede the right of a family to bury its child in peace.

So I am all for legislation that limits funeral protests to a certain time before or after the service. Personally, I would feel no loss if protesters were banned altogether from funerals. It would only be decent. But we’ve already seen decency swept away by the broom of free expression.

Now it’s done in God’s name.

‘A lying false prophet’

Phelps-Roper told me “the bottom rung on the depravity chain is the people who … say it’s OK to be gay.” When I asked her about President George W. Bush, she called him “a filthy pervert and a lying false prophet.”

And when I said, “Surely, there must be better places to protest than funerals,” she answered this way:

“You don’t get to decide where the word of God is to be preached.”

Apparently, only she does.

If you need me to explain how hateful and sick this woman’s philosophy is, I can’t help you. But even she can teach us a lesson. Many Christians, upon hearing about Westboro, rush forward to declare “all Christians don’t feel this way.” They claim this church actually is violating Christian basics.

Well, much of this is mirrored by Islam. When suicide bombers claim their murders are blessed by Allah, other Muslims race forth and insist “this is not the Muslim way.”

They are frustrated by the perception.

Likewise, the more the Westboro people stalk soldiers’ funerals, the more harm they do their religion. And the more backlash they create. Recently, a band of motorcyclists has begun rolling to the same funerals as the Westboro protesters, cheering for the soldiers to drown out the jeering.

Honestly, folks. At the moment that God is taking a soul back to grace, do you really think He wants to hear any of this?

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or malbom@freepress.com. Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 5-7 p.m. weekdays and “Monday Sports Albom” 7-8 p.m. Mondays on WJR-AM (760).

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