|Fred Phelps, personalmoneynetwork.com|
The paradox of protesting Westboro pickets is that it both helps the pro-gay community by galvanizing the pro LGBT movement, and yet supports the Westboro Baptist’s goals by bringing attention to their cause. In view of this, one may ask: What is the best way to deal with incendiary social movements such as the Westboro? According to the Declaration of Independence of the United States, all people are equal and "endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the persuit of Happiness" (Britt 2010:640). Those offended by their actions may turn to the law. However, despite some attempts to accuse the Westboro of emotional damage as a result of their speech, the First Amendment of the Constitution protects the Westboro Baptists. On a broad scale, all the group is doing is expressing their beliefs and opinions just as any other religious, or non-religious group can do. Even if most of what they say is negative and harmful to some, “most forms of speech, even “hate speech” are protected by the Constitution unless, as in cases of incitement, they are clearly linked to other kinds of criminal action or injury (Britt 2010:634). What the Constitution does not recognize is the impact of some forms of “hate speech” – such as ones the Westboro uses. In his article, “Hate Speech and Biblical Tradition”, Brian Britt suggests that “hate speech” – or as he calls them “curses” – of a Biblical nature have a different meaning to those who follow the Bible; this meaning and subsequent social consequences are not addressed through secular laws. In the numinous, magical world-view characteristic of the Bible (and those fundamentalist groups who follow it) curses are powerful and harmful weapons. He writes: “Powerful religious speech can be used in a strategic manner and even recanted, despite the tendency to think of such utterances as irreversible” (Britt 2010:637). This demonstrates that there are loopholes in the laws of a secular society that is in conflict with an entirely different and more ancient world-view of fundamentalist social movements such as the Westboro.
|Rick Santorum, addictinginfo.org|
The dichotomy between the secular and religious world-views is taking an increasingly powerful hold over American politics. Homosexuality has become a central axis in politics where opposing world-views play out. This issue has become a feature of the recent election primaries. Louisa Bertman writes of Rick Santorum, “a consistent and unapologetic homophobia has been one of the central aspects of his long career in politics” (2012:1). Santorum is increasingly gaining support over his anti-gay rights but less radical opponent, Mitt Romney. Anti-gay views of these Politian’s attract other fundamentalists – such as those of the Westboro Baptist Church.
The rise of such fundamentalist, religious perspectives may have economic roots. Amy Adamczyk and Cassady Pitt suggest, “when a nation is regularly faced with political and economic uncertainty and insecurity, people are more likely to support values and norms that emphasize the familiar. As a result… people may be less tolerant of non traditional ideas and lifestyles” (2009:340). Since the U.S. is in an economic crisis, it now makes sense why strong fundamentalists such as the Westboro, and Rick Santorum are appearing and gaining support.
In the end it is important to remember that, what seemed at first to be a black and white issue depicting a radical and pernicious social movement, turned out to be a multi-colored, complex matter. As Rebecca Fox wrote of understanding and interpreting movements such as the Westboro, “the goal is not to create an apologetic portrait of racists or anti-Semites or homophobes, but one that captures the complexities of their lives” (2011:16).
Adamczyk, Amy, and Cassady Pitt
2009 Shaping Attitudes About Homosexuality: The Role of Religion and Cultural Context.
Social Science Research 38(2):338-351
2012 Bigots and Enablers. The New Republic Journal of Politics and the Arts 243(4916):1
Britt, Brian M.
2010 Curses Left and Right: Hate Speech and Biblical Tradition. Journal of the
American Academy of Religion 78(3):633-661
Brouwer, Daniel C, and Aaron Hess
2007 Making Sense of ‘God Hates Fags’ and ‘Thank God for 9/11’: A Thematic
Analysis of Milbloggers’ Responses to Reverend Fred Phelps and the Westboro
Baptist Church. Western Journal of Communication 71(1):69-90.
Fox, Rebecca Barrett
2011 Anger and Compassion on the picket Line: Ethnography and emotion in the Study
of Westboro Baptist Church. Journal of Hate Studies 9(1):11-32.