Our View: Freedom of expression and the Westboro Baptists

June 21, 2011 10:03:00 AM



Much of the community breathed a sigh of relief on Friday when the Westboro Baptist Church of Kansas did not make an appearance at the funeral of Army Sgt. Christopher Bell. 


The funeral was on a schedule of memorials at which Westboro had planned demonstrations. 


In a press release, the church declared that "God hates America and is killing our troops in his path." 


The release closes with "Thank God for IEDs." 


Bell, 21, was one of four soldiers who died in a roadside explosion on June 4, in Afghanistan. And the Westboro outfit planned to use his funeral to further publicize their anti-gay, anti-military, anti-Semitic, anti-Obama, anti-priest messages. 


As deplorable as the thought is of someone yelling inflammatory messages at a funeral for a soldier killed in the service of our country, it is just as sobering to think this message could be stifled just because we may disagree with them. 


Most of those who commented on the story at cdispatch.com were justifiably outraged at the thought of Westboro making a spectacle of such a somber and private ceremony. 


"I''m so glad that the ungodly protesters were not here," lorenza102053 wrote. "Yes, I said ungodly, because God is love and they very obviously are not. They are an example of what can go terribly wrong with a so called church and bring a blight on the name of God. Hateful people like this have done more to destroy the church than Satan could ever accomplish." 


Another poster, roscoe p. coltrain, went so far as to say, "These so called Christians should be spat upon, beaten, and run out of town on a rail if need be ..." 


It''s an outrage, no doubt, that a group claiming some divine authority would disrupt the solemnity of a funeral for a young soldier. The church''s actions are not only inhumane, they contradict the most basic tenets of Christianity. 


However, one of the rights American servicemen through the centuries have died to protect is freedom of speech. It has been a battle fought with protests, ink, litigation and blood. 


One online reader, zenreaper, put it this way: "There is no greater testament to the freedoms that our brave men and women fight and die for (than) the freedom of those idiots to say what they want where they want. As long as their rights are protected, we know our rights are safe and sound." 


Idiots and sages alike have the freedom to freely express themselves in this great country. 


That they can is one of the sources of our greatness.