Thursday, March 3, 2011

Supreme Court's ruling on hateful speech leaves next move to us -- March 3, 2011 column


It took 20 years, but the most hated family in America won the lottery this week.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that Westboro Baptist (so-called) Church could continue its despicable protests at military funerals. The 8 to 1 ruling that the First Amendment protects even hurtful speech shocked many Americans and sent the news media into frenzy.

The frenzy was as predictable as it was unfortunate -- predictable because Snyder v. Phelps was a major First Amendment case and unfortunate because the intense coverage gave the Rev. Fred W. Phelps and his flock exactly what they want most: attention. Hate mongers crave a platform from which to spew their venom.

They are thrilled to be called the “most hated family in America,” a term used by a BBC documentary in 2007.

Enough already. The Phelpses’ horrible protests persuade no one, and they’ve attracted no followers. The question arises: If hate talk falls on deaf ears, does it make any sound?

The court rightly ruled for free speech, even if it’s vile. That doesn’t mean, though, that we have to watch or listen to it. The haters can pour out their poisonous diatribes without anyone ever pointing another microphone or camera at them. If the news media persist in featuring the freak show, we can turn off the radio and TV. When viewers and listeners move on, the Westboro story will fade.

“I get to be the mouth of God,” Margie J. Phelps told reporters after the Supreme Court ruled, according to news reports. Oh, really?

Margie, one of Fred’s daughters, is the attorney who argued the protesters’ case before the highest court. Eleven of Pastor Phelps’s 13 children are lawyers. Four of the spawn practice with the family law firm, Phelps-Chartered in Topeka, Kan. He founded Westboro Baptist there in 1955.

The so-called church is BINO – Baptist in Name Only, unaffiliated with mainstream Baptists. Most of Westboro’s members are Fred Phelps’s kin. Call it what it is: Westboro Phelps Bible-Misreading Haters Club.

The haters started their demonstrations in 1991 and broke into the media in 1998 by picketing the funeral of Mathew Shephard, the 21-year-old college student in Wyoming who was murdered because he was gay. The haters’ twisted view of Scripture holds that God is punishing America for tolerating gays.

“God Hates You” and virulent anti-gay messages are standard in the group’s protests. The Phelpses have picketed some 600 funerals, mostly of soldiers who were slain on the field of battle. It doesn’t matter if the soldiers are gay. The Supreme Court case involved the funeral of Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder, who was not gay. The haters bring signs reading “God hates fags” – also the odious name of their so-called church’s main Web site.

How desperate are the Phelpses for attention? They picketed the funeral of Elizabeth Edwards last December. One of the Phelpses said Edwards’ breast cancer and her husband John’s infidelity were God’s retribution for her support of gay and abortion rights.

Evidently, the Phelpses were unable that time to parlay their threat to picket into a talk show appearance, as they later did in Tucson. They threatened to picket the funerals of the Arizona mass shooting victims in January, saying 9-year-old Christina Taylor Green was “better off dead.” They called off their hate brigade when they got interviews on two radio shows.

In 2006, they canceled picketing the funeral of the five little Amish girls who were killed by a gunman – after receiving airtime.

Margie Phelps revealed her media obsession last August. “My brother Jonathan said once in an interview that every person in the world is going to see these words. It’s good. They are. The whole world…we get big chunks of media,” she told John Whitehead, president of the Rutherford Institute, a conservative legal foundation in Charlottesville, Va. The interview appears on the institute’s site

“We have had almost every nation send a big camera crew here to spend a week or two with us. This is reaching the whole world, and, without exception, they hate what we are saying,” said Margie.

“We are called the most hated family in America. Thank you, Lord. What evidence of our salvation,” she told Whitehead.

Well, here’s something we can do. From now on, when Margie or her kinfolks bully grieving families with threats and get airtime, we say no. We tune the haters out. Eventually, they’ll go back to being a local story in Topeka. The Phelpses can be the most hated family in America that nobody sees or hears.

© 2011 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.


  1. I agree with everything Ms Mercer says in the above commentary. She strikes the right notes and drews the correct conclusions. The Phelpses must be allowed to speak, but no one is required to listen. It would help if the media ignored them completely, but this will not happen as long as we tune in. Change the station, when they are featured.

  2. Excellent discussion of a timely and important issue. Ms Mercer and caryberkcam are on-the-mark.