If Hate Group Uses Law, Why Don’t We?

One day, God will deal with the screaming hatemongers from the Westboro Baptist Church. Until then, we’ll have to deal with them down here.

Which may mean changing laws, modifying laws and rewriting laws. If that sounds like a lot of work, it is. And if common decency prevailed, we wouldn’t have to do it.

But there is nothing decent about screaming, “God hates you!” at the funeral of a dead soldier. There is nothing decent about waving signs such as “Thank God for 9/11” or going on TV and radio claiming God hates America and that “one of His weapons of choice is sending your children home dead from the battle.”

Decency is a struggle these days. You could see it when the Supreme Court heard a case this past week involving the Westboro folks – who do all of the above around the country – and the father of a dead soldier.

Initially, the father, Albert Snyder, was awarded more than $10 million in damages from Westboro for its actions at his son Matthew’s funeral in Westminster, Md. A judge cut the amount in half, an appeals court overturned the decision altogether and this past week, the case was before the highest court in the land.

And while the justices winced at the Westboro ugliness, you could tell they were squirming. It is hard to stop these funeral protests while protecting our cherished principles of free speech and the First Amendment.

My guess is they won’t be able to.

So we must. Rights of the few and the many

Maybe the most offensive thing about Westboro (and that’s saying something) is that while the folks condemn this country and claim God hates it, they use its laws to protect themselves. The only thing keeping them from being murdered without punishment is our laws. The only thing keeping them from a swift arrest and life in a cell is our laws. The only thing allowing their vile signs and disgusting declarations is our laws.

And if we can’t change the big ones that protect us all – such as the First Amendment – perhaps we can change some small ones that affect just them.

Why not a law that bans protests at funerals within a 10-mile radius of a cemetery? That may seem overthe top, but no more so than fanatics soiling the saddest day in a family’s lives.

Imagine the Westboro folks stuck on a street corner 10 miles away. They’d get no attention – which is all they are after. My guess is they soon would drop the practice. Meanwhile, who would challenge such a law? How many groups really want to protest a funeral? Before Westboro came along, it was almost never an issue. That’s because people had the decency, no matter how much the dead might be hated, to allow mourners their moment to bury and grieve.

That moment is worth protecting, far more than the hatemongers who would desecrate it. Just no sense of decency

And that, I’m afraid, is the direction we’re going. With the Internet, YouTube and 24-hour news, behavior has sprung up that our forefathers never anticipated. Common decency was common back then. It is in shatters now.

Small laws may be the only way to curtail the lunatic fringe. Remember, the members of the Westboro Baptist Church, located in Topeka, Kan., are mostly relatives from a single family. They are not affiliated with other Baptist churches. They are vehemently antigay, anti-Jewish, anti-Catholic – pretty much anti-anything they aren’t. They protest soldiers’ funerals out of some convoluted logic that the military supports homosexuality – even when the dead soldiers weren’t gay.

They may, in our freedom-birthed society, be entitled to their opinions, but that doesn’t mean they get a license to express them anywhere. States already have adopted laws pushing their protests back 500 feet or more. Why stop there? Ten miles. Make it no chance a grieving father, wife or child could see these idiots en route to a grave.

Of course, the Westboro members won’t like it. But then, they can blame it on a country they hate. Or they can leave. Thanks to our laws, they are free to do that anytime.

Contact MITCH ALBOM: 313-223-4581 or malbom@freepress.com. Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 5-7 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760). www.freep.com/mitch.

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