Further, there are the three radio stations that have given a Phelps spokesperson airtime to express the group's views if the church will forego its planned protests. The leaders at these stations say that they are trying to protect the families from greater harm. But it is difficult to understand how allowing the vitriolic speech of this group to be heard by thousands of listeners could be considered a fair trade. In fact, they are being given an even larger platform for their dangerous message.
Thank goodness the Arizona Legislature has enacted a law that prohibits such actions near funerals and has levied heavy penalties on participants. Our First Amendment rights to free expression should not include toxic speech and actions virtually guaranteed to cause harm.
I can't help believing that my Christian colleagues and all people of faith and goodwill mourn with me for the terrible losses by those in Tucson whose lives have been touched by these senseless deaths. And I pray that love will prevail over hate in our lives and in our country.
The Rev. Dr. Betty Stapleford
Unitarian Universalist Church of the Verdugo Hills, La Crescenta
The belief of the Westboro Baptist Church that God is punishing the U.S. for homosexuality by war deaths and other calamities is ludicrous. It is depressing that they show up at soldiers' funerals.
That all these soldiers' funerals continue is sadder.
Whether the Arizona and Ohio laws against Westboro would survive a constitutional challenge is another question. Those who work to protect the First Amendment pick and choose cases to pursue, and the "ick" factor, high in Phelps' case, of a potential defendant is always a consideration.
However much I disapprove of Westboro, nevertheless I believe that unpopular ideas expressed in controversial places deserve free-speech protection. More free speech is called for, not trying to silence ideas with which one disagrees.
Before Arizona's new law was passed, I was heartened to hear about a plan in Phoenix for numerous counter-protesters at Christina's funeral to all wear large angel wings to block the Westboro group from the view of funeral-goers. Big signs that say "God is love" or more inclusively, "We are love" is another thought. We needn't squelch their rights or be silent ourselves.
Surely a full airing of Phelps' views would diminish, not increase, support for him. Homophobia is in an irreversible decline in the U.S.
The latest American Community Survey from the Census Bureau revealed that child-rearing by stable, same-sex couples is on the rise everywhere. Even Phelps cannot have failed to notice that openly gay folks are common and accepted in mainstream America.
In fact, I believe that fact has given rise to his hatred. I see his crusade as a last, irrational gasp of opposition to full rights for gays in this country. Counter-protest, ignore or ban, it will go away on its own inevitably, if not as soon as we want.
I will not write about the Westboro church. My mother taught me that the only way to handle bullies is to ignore them, not to lend a single ounce of energy or encouragement to them. And so they will get not a word of drama from me.
I call instead for a return to common decency. We should not have to legislate the minimal amount of civility it takes to allow families to grieve in peace and privacy.