With at least 27 states considering laws to ban or restrict picketing at soldiers’ funerals, Fred Phelps’ notorious Westboro Baptist Church has found a new target, protesting at military hospitals treating troops seriously wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The man responsible for the “GodHatesFags.com” and “GodHatesAmerica.com” Web sites last week picketed the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., with a dozen of his family members and followers. According to Cybercast News Service they carried signs stating, “Thank God for Maimed Soldiers,” “Thank God for Dead Soldiers” and “God Hates You.”
A flier on the Westboro Baptist Church Web site dated April 3 announced that in addition to picketing soldiers’ funerals, protestors would also picket troops who survived IED (improvised explosive device) bombings but were maimed or severely wounded.
An anti-war women’s group called Code Pink previously began holding vigils at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and Bethesda Naval Medical Center to draw attention to gravely and seriously wounded soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan arriving for treatment under the cover of night.
The Code Pink protestors claim it is an attempt to hide the human side of the war, consistent with the policy prohibiting photographs of flag-draped coffins carrying war dead arriving at Dover Air Force Base. The Pentagon says arrival times are simply a matter of Air Force scheduling, due to operating restrictions and patient processing in Germany.
True to his penchant for showing up when TV cameras are around, Phelps bought a different message.
“God Almighty is punishing this evil nation by killing their kids over in Iraq and by maiming, crippling and mangling their kids over in Iraq,” Phelps told CNS. “This nation is going to continue to be punished by God until they repent, but we don’t believe they’re going to repent.”
Phelps says military personnel share the blame for court decisions and legislation favoring homosexuality, even if those service members do not support that lifestyle.
“It’s irrelevant whether they as individuals support them,” he said. “They joined an army and became a part of a military establishment, voluntarily, knowing that that military establishment was packed and jammed with homosexuals. If they join an army that they know is a sodomite army and fight for a nation that they know is a sodomite nation, they are equally guilty.”
Phelps’ election-year antics have gotten the attention of legislators in at least 27 states.
Nebraska is the latest of several states to enact laws aimed at stopping protests by Westboro Baptist Church. Gov. Dave Heineman on Tuesday signed a bill making it a misdemeanor to protest activities within 300 feet of a cemetery, funeral home, church or other place of worship from one hour prior to the start of a funeral or memorial service until two hours after it has begun.
In Illinois, lawmakers hoped to work out a compromise that nearly derailed their Legislature’s bill when a powerful union fought the proposal, because it might interfere with cemetery workers’ right to picket during labor disputes.
Two bills pending in Tennessee banning funeral protests are opposed by the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union as “overbroad bans on free speech.” GodHatesFags.com responded to the bills with a flier proclaiming thunderstorms and tornadoes that killed 24 people last week in west Tennessee God’s judgment on laws “criminalizing the gospel preaching of WBC.”
Based on a literal reading of the King James Version of the Bible, Phelps says all nations must outlaw homosexual activity and make it punishable by death. He links the 2003 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Lawrence v. Texas striking down state laws against sodomy as a “fateful line” crossed by the nation.
Phelps condemns Christian teaching that God loves everyone as “the greatest lie ever told.” A
94-page PDF file on his Web site lists 701 passages that he says prove “God’s hate and wrath for most of mankind.”
Romans 9:13, an FAQ section on GodHatesFags.com points out, says that God hated Esau and Psalm 5:5 says God hates all “workers of iniquity.” The assertion of John 3:16 that “God so loved the world,” he says, applies only to the “elect,” those with the capacity to believe.
He defends use of the term “fag,” which many find objectionable, saying it is a contraction of the word “faggot,” which means a firebrand used for kindling and is a metaphor for homosexuality fueling the wrath of God.
Phelps claims he and his family have picketed more than 25,000 times since 1991, in what they call “love crusades.” They picketed the funerals of Matthew Shepard, a gay man who was beaten to death in Wyoming; gay men who died of AIDS and miners who died in the Jan. 2 Sago Mine disaster.
They spend a reported quarter of a million dollars on airfare each year. It is paid by the family, which includes 10 attorneys among 13 children.
Wesley Cook of Philadelphia, a counter-protester at Walter Reed Army Hospital, called actions by Phelps and his followers actions “a disgrace.
“We have soldiers here that are healing,” he Cook told CNS. “They need peace and quiet.”
“Mr. Phelps, ‘Pastor’ Phelps, Mr. Phelps is just looking for publicity,” he said. “I am also a Christian. He is not practicing a brand of Christianity that I recognize. I think he’s shaming the name of Jesus Christ.”
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.