THE DRESDEN FILES Reading Challenge

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Thursday, April 1, 2010


Let me say this up front and loudly: I’m a queer. Specifically, I’m a lesbian. I spent most of my life being ashamed of this, and hiding this, and making people around me miserable because I was living a lie. I’ve been physically attacked a number of times, and I’ve also been raped. My wife and I both have had bags of urine and feces thrown at us, and we’ve been spit on. All because, well, we’re queers.

I’m the sort of person that the “good christians” of Westboro Baptist Church targets. I’m sure you all know who those folks are: they’re the wonderful people that bring you the website, and they’re the ones that picketed Matthew Shepard’s funeral after he was beaten and hung on a fence in Wyoming and left there to die. Because, well, he was a queer. According to the good folks at Westboro Baptist Church, no deviates have the right to exist. Period.

They’ve also been doing their hateful and hate-filled hard-shell routine at the funerals of soldiers that have died in defense of this country, and incidentally and peripherally, in defense of their constitutional rights to free speech. These people are so awful that, in response to Phelps' protests at military funerals, President George W. Bush signed the Respect for America's Fallen Heroes Act into law in May 2006, and, in April 2007, Kansas governor Kathleen Sebelius signed into law a bill establishing a 150-foot no-picketing buffer zone around funerals. It’s pretty ironic, too, considering what Fred Phelps used to do.

Brief history here: Fred Phelps earned a law degree from Washburn University in 1962, and founded the Phelps Chartered law firm in 1964. The first notable cases were related to civil rights. That’s right, you read that sentence correctly: his first notable cases were civil rights cases. "I systematically brought down the Jim Crow laws of this town," he says. Phelps' daughter was quoted as saying, "We took on the Jim Crow establishment, and Kansas did not take that sitting down. They used to shoot our car windows out, screaming we were n****r lovers," and that the Phelps law firm made up one-third of the state’s federal docket of civil rights cases. Phelps took cases on behalf of African American clients alleging racial discrimination by school systems, and a predominantly black American Legion post which had been raided by police, alleging racially-based police abuse. Phelps' law firm, staffed by himself and family members also represented non-white Kansans in discrimination actions against Kansas Power and Light, Southwestern Bell, and the Topeka City Attorney, and represented two female professors alleging discrimination in Kansas universities. In the 1980s, he received awards from the Greater Kansas City Chapter of Blacks in Government and the Bonner Springs branch of the NAACP for his work on behalf of black clients.

I find that all very hard to believe. This is a professional hater. However, I digress:

Unfortunately, or perhaps not so unfortunately, he was disbarred for perjury. A formal complaint was filed against Phelps on November 8, 1977, by the Kansas State Board of Law Examiners for his conduct during a lawsuit against a court reporter named Carolene Brady. Phelps lost the case; according to the Kansas Supreme Court, because the trial became “a shameful exhibition of a personal vendetta waged by Phelps against Carolene Brady. His examination was replete with repetition, badgering, innuendo, and belligerence, irrelevant and immaterial matter, evidencing only a desire to hurt and destroy the defendant.” The jury verdict didn't stop his onslaught, though. In an appeal, Phelps prepared affidavits swearing to the court that he had eight witnesses whose testimony would convince the court to rule in his favor.

Brady, in turn, obtained sworn, signed affidavits from the eight people in question, all of whom said that Phelps had never contacted them and that they had no reason to testify against Brady. In other words, Phelps committed perjury. In public. And, on July 20, 1979, he was permanently disbarred from practicing law in the state of Kansas. Unfortunately, he was allowed to continue to practice in the Federal courts for another 6 years. In 1985, nine Federal judges filed a disciplinary complaint against Phelps and five of his children, alleging false accusations against the judges. In 1989, the complaint was settled, with Phelps agreeing to stop practicing in Federal court permanently. He’s been pissed off about that every since.

As I said, this man and his family (who are the only members of Westboro Baptist Church) are professional haters. While the GLBT community is the special focus of their ire, they are perfectly willing to picket anything that reminds them of their hatred for this country, which actually allows openly GLBT folks to live in relative peace, safety and public acceptance. Phelps' stated political views and activities are primarily driven by his view that the United States is "a sodomite nation of flag-worshiping idolaters." In other words, he’s a Calvinist of the old school, and the rest of us, regardless of who and what we are, are all going to burn in his version of hell.

This, of course, leads us directly to Albert Snyder and his son, who was a casualty of war in Iraq. The group rallied at Matthew Snyder’s funeral in March 2006 in Westminster, Md., chanting antigay slogans and carrying signs such as “Thank God for dead soldiers,” says Albert Snyder’s attorney, Sean Summers. The group was protesting about 30 feet from the church’s main entrance, and Mr. Snyder had to enter through a separate entrance, Mr. Summers says.

Snyder subsequently sued the Westboro group for emotional distress and won a $5 million judgment. But on appeal, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed, finding in favor of protecting the protesters' free-speech rights. About three weeks ago, the Supreme Court agreed to take the case and is expected to hear it in the fall (last year, SCOTUS had declined to take up the issue.) Meanwhile, the circuit court has ordered Snyder, a salesman, to pay the church’s court expenses. The protests have nothing to do with the fallen service members' sexual orientation.

“Military funerals have become pagan orgies of idolatrous blasphemy, where they pray to the dunghill gods of Sodom and play taps to a fallen fool,” states a press release posted on the church’s website, announcing the rally at a memorial service for Lance Cpl. Justin Wilson. At the bottom of the press release are printed the words “Thank God for IEDs,” referring to the roadside bombs that have killed thousands of troops in both wars.

So, what’s going to happen to Mr. Snyder? He’s refusing to pay the legal expenses of the “church”, and I personally don’t blame him in the slightest. This is, after all, one of the worst things that can happen to a family and it is a parent’s worst nightmare. Your son/daughter is dead. He/she was killed defending their country, and you aren’t even allowed to bury them in peace because of these hateful people. The church's members are infamous for their protests and pickets at the funerals of soldiers who died in the line of duty, where they take the opportunity to denounce what they consider to be America's acceptance of homosexuality. The name of their website reflects this. Their antics are denounced across almost all spectra of political and religious thought.

Their hatred, and their publicity-seeking, goes beyond their hatred of homosexuality. So, what can be done about them? In a word: nothing. There’s free speech in this country, gangers, whether we personally like it or not, and these “people” – and I use that word advisedly – are entitled to express their views in whatever way they wish. There are a lot of us that were hurt, and who have died, to insure this right; just because most decent folks find their actions repulsive doesn’t mean that we have the right to stop them.

I can’t even say that this is unfortunate, either; if we deny these folks their right to say what they want, when they want to, and where they choose, then we ourselves have no right to vocally oppose them. If we as a country do away with this right for this particular group, then that says things about the state of ethical and moral behaviour in this country that I personally don’t care to contemplate.

‘Course, that doesn’t mean that a big ugly thing shouldn’t come out of the woods and eat them all, either – and if that happens, I really would love to have the popcorn concession for that event!

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