Thank God for 9/11?

November 21, 2011

Political Theory


When first hearing of Westboro Baptist Church, it is quite reasonable to assume that it is just another traditional Christian church, much like I thought until recently.  A friend and I were discussing a recent protest against homosexuals in New York City when he encouraged me to “google” this very same church.

The Westboro Baptist Church is not related with any other Baptist churches, and if you wish to research them, you can simply entertheir homepage website into your url: godhatesfags.com.  As can be seen from the url, they are essentially a homophobic and are also an anti-semitic group which have targeted many gay communities and Jewish places of gathering in the recent years.  They have been cited as a hate group by numerous organizations, including the Anti-Defamation League.  According to the WBC, the Bible specifically cites homosexuality as a crime and, due to this, the increasing acceptance and tolerance of homosexuals in the United States is seen as a national sin and a continuing problem globally.  They believe that this sin results in the deaths and problems of America, notably the 9/11 Attacks and also the death of soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq.

This hatred is combined with their hate for Jews as they believed these were the people directly responsible for the death of Jesus.  The WBC view Jews as a form of neo-Nazis that are different in their support of homosexuality, sodomy, and have persecuted Christians for the past years,including that of their own Westboro Baptist Church.  They believe that the Holocaust was a minor detail of their history, but their crimes have, in a way, justified it.  Below can be seen some of their propaganda:

“Whatever righteous cause the Jewish victims of the 1930s-40s Nazi Holocaust had, (probably miniscule, compared to the Jewish Holocausts against Middle Passage Blacks, African Americans and Christians — including the bloody persecution of Westboro Baptist Church by Topeka Jews in the 1990s), has been drowned in sodomite semen…The American Jews are the real Nazis.”– WBC news release, December 26, 1996

Many of us would find this language disgusting and provoking, however, Locke does note in his A Letter Concerning Toleration that governments cannot change beliefs, so it would be inconceivable for us to think that we could change the strongly held beliefs of these extremists.  These individuals have been brought up in this religious society that seems to not only solicit hate, but also does not allow for the questioning of this hate.  And what does happen when they question these ideas?  This video should provide some insight.

Since their beliefs cannot be changed if they themselves do not question them due to their church’s reinforcement of this idea and familial ties, I have found that the better question is not how we can eliminate their ideas, but how we can ensure that they are kept in the private sphere.

I would then argue that it is their places of protest that is in question.  They have chosen funerals of soldiers as a perfect place for this protest, holding signs that praise God for the deaths of soldiers and thanking him for the attacks that are purging America of the sinners.  Funerals are a private place for remembrance of an individuals life, not a public place to praise their death, especially in the ways that these lives were given up.  Acklesburg and Shanley note that this struggle between what is public and what is private is still visible in today’s world and a source of political contention, which was determined in the Supreme Court’s March decision in favor of the WBC.  Yet, Acklesburg and Shanley would disagree as they acknowledge that harmful actions “affect its victims not only as private individuals but as public persons or citizens as well, and failure to prosecute such offenses not only denies justice to that individual but also intimidates all victims” (Privacy, Publicity, and Power 224).  While they were referring to physical violence, I would apply this to the psychological harm that the Westboro Baptist members inflict upon the families of the fallen soldiers.  The protests cross the line between private and public hatred, harming individuals in society.  So, I would argue that courts could prosecute the WBC under this idea.

For these reasons, would it be allowable for the government to place restrictions on the types of speech permitted in the public sphere?  Could these restrictions include certain places of protests that are allowable or not allowable?  Or do you find this to be an infringement on our right to freedom of expression?

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About amgille

Graduate of The University of Michigan. Lover of cats, wine, cheese, and bagels.

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7 Comments on “Thank God for 9/11?”

  1. godzillagti Says:

    While I find this church to be completely offensive, they have every right to protest the way they are protesting. Growing up in a christian home, “hate” was a banned word in my house, but the members of the WBC throw it around very casually. I personally believe that God does forgive people and that he doesn’t hate anyone, but that is beside the point. The United States gives the freedom of speech to all of its citizens. However in the famous court case Schenck v. United States (http://www.oyez.org/cases/1901-1939/1918/1918_437), freedom of speech was given boundaries. The ruling of the case made it illegal to utter threatening things. Holmes, one of the judges said on behalf of the whole court, “The question in every case is whether the words used are used in such circumstances and are of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils that Congress has a right to prevent.” The famous phase that arose from this case was that it was illegal to falsely shout fire in a crowded theatre, this being because it could cause harm to those in the theatre. The problem with the WBC is whether their protests are threatening or not. I don’t believe that what they are doing is threatening. They are expressing their beliefs, no matter how disrespectful they may be. I can’t believe that they protest at certain places like funerals and what not, but it is within their rights. Like it or not, we need to be tolerant to them.

  2. rfieds Says:

    I find this post to be extremely intriguing as it confronts the dilemma of whether freedom of speech has implied limitations to it. The Church is very offensive to Jews, homosexuals, and America as a whole. It uses the horrific events of 9/11 as reason to hate minority groups such as Jews and homosexuals. Having been raised Jewish, I find this to be extremely offensive and inconsiderate. While all citizens are granted utter freedom of speech, I think that in this case freedom of speech is undoubtedly hurting the wellbeing of the general public. America holds the attacks of 9/11 very dear to its heart and no group or hate group for that matter should be free to scrutinize. Too often people use the notion of freedom of speech to secure that their inappropriate and often evil actions are tolerated in the general public. However, I think there are and should always be strict boundaries on what is permitted and considered free speech. While it may seem that the WBC’s protests are mere proclamations of opinion, they are threatening to others, hence Jews and homosexuals. There is no good in allowing such free speech to be tolerated. I think that such protests should be shut down immediately and ultimately done with. The logical and legal reason that should prevail would be to shut down these protests.

  3. jeanrichmann Says:

    I agree with Locke’s statement that one cannot force belief. It is a true statement, one can force someone into practicing a religion, yet going through the motions of practice does not guarantee that a person will accept that religion. From my personal standpoint, I identify as an atheist. I have been to church multiple times, as well as religious camps and youth groups. I have talked to many persons who have attempted to convert my faith, yet I remain atheist. Someone could force me to attend church every Sunday, yet I still would not believe the message the church was trying to convey. Religion is a personal belief that cannot be forced.

    This being said, I do not agree with the views of Westboro Baptist Church. While the Government cannot force these citizens to change their beliefs, they can suppress the claims they make that are harmful and hatred towards others. I believe it is harmful to protest and claim that God hates an individual because of their sexual orientation or religious affiliation. This freedom of speech is a form of a hate speech. The words the Westboro Baptist Church communicates with society are harmful towards others. I believe that suppressing their rights to protest is not violating freedom of speech, as some forms of speech should be regulated. What the Westboro Baptist Church is violating the others rights to personal happiness, and I believe that is wrong. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, yet no one is entitled to harm another.

    I also find it ironic that the Westboro Baptist Church claims that God hates Jews, when Jesus himself was a Jew.

  4. nja91 Says:

    This church goes well beyond their natural rights by infringing upon others’ lives. The example of them protesting at a funeral of a fallen soldier, which is a very private and personal occasion, is so disgusting and disrespectful. Yes, people can believe what they want to believe but when it becomes this hateful and infringes on other people’s lives, I find that it is unacceptable and cannot be allowed.

    Another thing that really disturbs me is the indoctrinating of young children. Locke says you cannot change one’s beliefs, but does that apply to people who didn’t even form their beliefs on their own? These children were never free to think for themselves. They are fed lies and hate from shockingly young ages, so I don’t know it Locke’s statements apply to them.

    Overall, this kind of hate and blatant disrespect for not only others, but their own, is highly disturbing and something that I don’t think should be tolerated as it is dangerous and harmful to others.

  5. Jake Weimar Says:

    I agree that like Locke said it is impossible for a government to change the way someone thinks. There should be limits on free speech in the case of the Westboro Baptist Church. Both John Stuart Mill and the United States Constitution believe there are limitations to freedom of expression. Under the Constitution words that are used to incite violence and obscenity, if the obscenity does not have any serious artistic, literary, political, or scientific value. According to John Stuart Mill expression should be limited when it involves hate speech which singles out a group or individual, incites violence, and directly harms an individual or group.

    The Westboro Baptist Church even though I don’t agree with them should not be limited based on the Constitution’s limitations on expression. John Stuart Mill would limit the expression of the Westboro Baptist Church. Believing if they have the right to express their hateful views depends on if you believe speech should be limited when the Constitution would limit speech, or when John Stuart Mill would limit speech.

  6. tchung22 Says:

    I think it is allowable for the government to place restrictions on the types of speech permitted in the public sphere. This type of expression infringes on the public sphere and is a form of hate speech. I definitely believe these restrictions should include certain places of protests that are not allowable. For instance, the church members protesting that it’s a good thing the soldiers died at their funerals are simply unacceptable and perhaps bordering on threatening. I believe there are limitations that need to be placed on freedom of expression in extreme situations. I watched the video posted, and although I was intrigued, I was also incredibly disturbed by what I saw. The parents brainwashed their children.

  7. luniho Says:

    The Westboro Baptist Church has engaged in a multitude of various heinous forms of protest. A few years ago, a local high school put on the play The Laramie Project, concerning the death by assault of a young gay man. This “church” announced plans to protest, though they backed out before actually attending. I agree with Locke in his “A Letter Concerning Toleration;” there’s no way to change an individual’s religious belief, nor is it appropriate for a government to make an attempt to do so. However, religious practice can only extend a limited amount; it cannot be allowed to transgress on the rights of others. Protest at the funeral of soldiers is personally offensive to the surviving family and friends of the deceased. Their protest is constitutionally protected, but their expression must be moderated in the protection of the rights of others.

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