Monday, January 10, 2011

Westboro Baptist Church To Protest 9-Year-Old's Funeral

Take a moment to read this news item I came across about the Westboro Baptist Church’s (WBC) plans to picket the funeral of Christina Taylor Green, the nine year old girl killed during the attempted assassination of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords last Saturday in Tucson, AZ.

I’m sure many of you have heard of this outfit. They’re a bunch of right-wing religious zealots based in Kansas. The only thing they seem to love more than The Lord – and, by “The Lord,” they seem to have a partiality for the Old Testament version of God – is publicity. That’s why they consistently pick the most inappropriate events to protest. They know that the media will not be able to resist the temptation to make them part of the larger story.

(And, by writing about them here, I realize that I am giving them a morsel of the attention they want. But I decided that the point I want to make is worth it.)

First, they protested the funerals of AIDS victims. When this became too cliché and predictable, they moved onto the funerals of military KIAs. Their new attention-grabbing strategy seems to be protesting the funerals of people who die during national tragedies.

Sometimes, the WBC’s protests veer off into the realm of the surreal. My friend Felicite and I saw Lady Gaga in concert last year in Oklahoma City. Sure enough, the WBC was there, courting the attention protesting the nation’s biggest pop star would get them.

I tend to find outspoken ignorance more entertaining than offensive. So for me, the spectacle of sign-waving troglodytes protesting a singer famous for wearing a electrified bra which shoots sparks gave the event a charming degree of absurdity.

Of the six people who died in Tucson, they obviously chose the child’s funeral because it will likely draw the most media attention. That’s obvious to me, and it has to be obvious to members of the media.

This is why I wish the media would wake up and make a concerted effort to stop enabling the WBC. They can do this by simply denying them the publicity they crave.  

Far more people have learned about the WBC from the media’s coverage of their activities than through their individual publicity stunts. The media did not create this beast. But it certainly nurtured it and allowed it to grow.

Fred Phelps, head of the WBC, may be crazy and offensive, but he isn’t stupid. He knows how to grab attention. The media needs to respond to this cagey aggression with editorial restraint. If the message is irrelevant to the story unfolding around the protest, then the media should learn to do what grieving families at funerals have had to do for years: Ignore them whether they show up or not.

Not everyone who demands a soapbox, or shows up at places where they know a phalanx of television camera awaits them, deserves to get the attention they want.  Pissing on the sidewalk never warrants media attention – even when the sidewalk is in front of the White House.

The members of the Westboro Baptist Church have a constitutionally-protected right to free speech. No one should ever deny them the right to express their views. Indeed, I think legislative attempts to ban protesters from funerals or other tasteless locations are of dubious constitutionality. And, they give groups like the WBC yet another venue – the courts – from which to push their agendas.

But nothing in the Constitution says that people who engage in bad behavior should always be rewarded with an even bigger microphone.


  1. Well said, Cross. Truly.

  2. When people say that these groups (and others like them) don't deserve to spout off their terrible views I have to disagree. They have the right. To take it away would set a dangerous precedent.

    Nobody says that we have to listen, however. They're like toddlers throwing a tantrum. All they want is attention, and if they don't get it they will eventually stop.