’Burn a Koran’ Pastor’s New BFF: Phelps’ ’God Hates Fags’ Crew
A Gainesville, Fla. anti-gay minister’s plan to make a bonfire out of copies of the Qu’ran--the holy book of the Muslim faith--has been denounced as an invitation to violence against U.S. troops in Afghanistan by Gen. David Petraeus and condemned by the U.S. State Department as "un-American."
Buried on the web site for the group planning to burn the sacred texts, however, is clue as to the mindset of those behind the planned bonfire: a posting "in support of Westboro Baptist," the anti-gay church based in Topeka, Kansas that is run by Fred Phelps.
An April 21 blog entry at the site’s web site recounts that on the previous Sunday, April 18, members of Dove World Outreach Center "went as a church to stand with" a contingent of street preachers from Westboro. The Westboro congregation--mostly made up of Rev. Phelps’ extended family--have gained notoriety by picketing the funerals of fallen U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. The church claims that God is punishing America because gays are not sufficiently persecuted in this country. The church’s actions have spurred state laws intended to shield grieving families of fallen soldiers from the group and its famously epithet-riddled placards, which carry slogans such as "God Hates America," "Thank God for IEDs," and "God Hates Fags."
The Westboro Baptist Church’s picketing actions have enraged veterans and veterans’ groups, and states have attempted to regulate where protesters may and may not carry out picketing actions at military funerals. But the First Amendment offers broad protections for freedom of speech, and a federal judge recently struck down Missouri law aimed at preventing such disruptions at the funerals of fallen soldiers.
The Supreme Court is due to take up a case of a grieving family who has brought the Westboro Church to court over a 2006 picketing action at the funeral of a young Marine in Maryland. The fallen soldier was killed in Iraq; his father, Albert Snyder, says that the group’s picketing caused him anguish and emotional distress, reported the Courier-Journal, a regional newspaper serving Kentucky and Southern Indiana.
Rev. Fred Phelps had a different point of view, telling the Courier-Journal that Mr. Snyder "ought to be very thankful to us" because the Phelps group "warn[s] people about the perils of sinful conduct that will destroy a nation." But the Westboro church’s website made claims about the Snyder family that were as painful for the father as the disrupted funeral, claiming that the fallen Marine’s parents "raised him for the devil."
"A man who dies for his country, for peace, should not have a father who has to fight to bury him in peace," the article quoted Snyder as saying in a previous interview.
The Snyder family was awarded $5 million in damages in 2007, but that verdict was reversed on appeal in federal court. The Courier-Journal article noted that the Supreme Court will consider not whether governments have the right to restrict protests that take place near military funerals, but rather whether a claim of emotional damage resulting from such protests are actionable. Free speech scholars like Christina Wells, a law professor at the University of Missouri, dispute this.
"People say we agree with the First Amendment but when we get into areas that are offensive, like flag burning, people are much less tolerant," Wells told the Courier-Journal.
Veterans groups like the Veterans of Foreign Wars see it differently. "If Albert Snyder, a grieving father of an American hero, cannot seek remedy... for the emotional torment [the Westboro protesters] viciously imposed upon him, what purpose do our laws serve?" asked the VFW in a legal brief.
Photos at the Dove World outreach Center’s site show members of the congregation picketing along with the Phelps congregation. Where the Phelps clan carries their trademark brightly colored placards, Dove World picketers wear T-shirts emblazoned with the slogan, "Islam is of the Devil."
Text at the site justifies the Westboro and Dove Outreach picketing, saying, "Westboro Baptist is not anti-military or anti-USA. Rather the opposite, actually. Do some research. They go to funerals because the Bible says that a fallen soldier is a sign of God’s wrath and a reminder of the condition of this world, a fallen world, in sin." The text adds that, "we honor the fallen for their sacrifice, but funerals are also a chance to repent and get our lives right with God before our own comes along."
The text adds, "At DWOC we are also very pro-America, pro-Military, AND super, radically concerned about people’s salvation. That’s why we go after Islam and say it is of the devil--it is anti-Christian and anti-America."
But the man in charge of military operations in Afghanistan has warned that if the group goes ahead with its plan to burn copies of the Qu’ran, Islamic anti-American sentiments will be inflamed--and U.S. troops may pay the price.
"Images of the burning of a Quran would undoubtedly be used by extremists in Afghanistan--and around the world--to inflame public opinion and incite violence," Gen. David Petraeus told the Associated Press.