Monday, March 14, 2011

Antidotes and Anecdotes from a Westboro Church Non-Protest

Published: The Huffington Post 2011.03.14

This morning I woke to see a front page headline about Westboro Baptist Church arriving to protest at a funeral about 10 miles from my house. This is a funeral for a family that died in too horrifically to describe here. I don't want to sully their memories with the mention of the Westboro Baptist Church in the same article.

I wanted to be part of the counter-protest. We all need to stand up and speak when these folks come to town. You can speak silent volumes just being there for the families who are about to be abused by this group.

Before going to the church, I started thinking about other times I had seen their protests online. I was struck by the fact they used their kids as human sign posts. Since they were going to be in my county, I called the Commissioner's Office and asked if it is possible to deploy the Child Welfare Department to the protest site in case any of these kids are being used as human pawns. I am asking with respect to a parent that would put a child in a toxic situation that Westboro Baptist is expert in creating. Does this child need to be evaluated with respect to the environment? After all, are we witnessing child abuse when Westboro Baptist places their children in a potentially dangerous situation? Like, what kind of parent does that to their kid?

An investigation could be initiated that may take a couple of days to complete. I am sure the taxpayers in my county would not have a problem footing the bill to make sure these children are not damaged in any way. Our foster care system would be a good spot for these kids as things are checked out. The county can take it's time and do everything by the book.

As I was looking online for information, I was having some trouble finding where to go. I had hoped to access one of the Westboro Baptist Church's many sites. It would have been handy to know exactly where they were going, however, it has been hacked. I'd like to ask the hackers who brought these sites down via denial of service attacks to at least leave an updated schedule accessible so we know where to go for the counter protests. I know it is fun to kick these guys in the shins in the virtual world, but there are some of us who want to fight bad speech with good speech in the real world.

On my way to the Church there were a number of police cars from both local and state jurisdictions. Once I got there, I parked at another church across the street. (This is Pennsylvania -- We like God here -- He has a lot of houses that He likes to stay at.)

Getting out of the car, I met a few people who were also waiting for the arrival of the circus. Those who wanted to counter-protest were being directed across the street to the parking lot in back. While walking to that spot I found myself walking near some of the mourners. This is a devastating situation as emotions are running very high. There are really no words you can say to folks walking into the sanctuary.

I felt at that point both heartless and helpless. I resented what these people from Kansas are doing to people in my area. I don't want to see these people abused or used for this group's aims. They are now empowered with the Supreme Court Seal of Approval to continue inflicting pain. We need to get more creative in countering these people.

As I arrived at the back of the parking lot I saw about 100 folks. The best thing about this, if there can be a best anything in this situation, was the incredible cross-section of people who showed up. Older folks to toddlers being held by their fathers; teenagers and twenty-somethings all the way up through middle age all stood respectfully in the cold as the parking lot filled with the real mourners. Socio-economically and politically, we were just as diverse. Some reporters wandered around.

As we stood there we talked about what brought us there. We all wanted to let Westboro Baptist Church know we don't think much of their faith. We all wanted to let those attending this funeral know we wanted to protect them. A couple people really knew the comings and goings of the Westboro Group. Dave was one guy who really knew his stuff.

Looking at the full parking lot, I started to think about where Westboro Baptist would park their rig. I had this vision of seeing 20 or 30 cars sealing it into a parking lot so it could not move out. If each of those folks had flattened tires so that they could not move their cars, could you imagine how long Westboro would be stuck in a community?

Eventually, the woman who organized this counter protest walked up and said that Westboro Baptist would be a no show today. Everyone exhaled the sigh of relief. As people peeled off small groups of folks continued talking about where do we go from here.

People are frustrated at Westboro and the Supreme Court. When I expressed the thought that the Supreme Court may have gotten it right, I could see some eyes slit. But keep in mind that if they had gone the other way with their decision, it would have been a continuing civil right avalanche that started with Citizens United. We talked as we walked to our cars for about 20 minutes more until the local police chief walked by.

Bending his ear for a moment we found out that it could cost well over $3,000 in preparation and police services to protect the community from the beast known as Westboro. The Chief basically said there is no way the town can recoup the costs since Westboro did not file a permit. He said this is basically a media thing.

We had broken up by this time.

On my way home, I started thinking about how we can put Westboro Baptist out of our misery. I realized, while Westboro did not formally file for a permit, they did, in fact, issue a notification that they would be appearing at this church (Link second page). Taxpayer money was spent on their word, only to be wasted when they did not show up. If I were a resident of Towamencin Township, Pa, I wonder if I would have legal standing to get my tax dollars back in small claims court? After all, they just wasted my taxes with making my police chief run around trying to prepare for their arrival.

Wouldn't it be cool if a bunch of residents filed individual claims against this group in each little town they teased? Wouldn't they need to fight each claim? If they lost a claim, could get a jury trial. Would this be the financial death of a thousand cuts?

Would the thought that you could help solve the Westboro Baptist Church problem make you want to serve on a jury?

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