My Photo

The Out Campaign

Atheist Blogroll

Blog powered by Typepad
Member since 05/2005

« Closeted Politicians and Bi Invisibility | Main | "Spreading the Good News About Atheism": Why We Need Atheist Ad Campaigns »



Personally I kind of admire Fred Phelps.

Greta Christina

And solomon, you should know that I have a policy against both trolling and comment hogging. Both of which you are becoming guilty of in a very short time. Please read my comment policy before commenting further in my blog. Trolling for fights, or excessive comments in a short time in multiple threads, will result in you being banned from this blog. I accept and even welcome sincere dissent and debate here, but will not permit my blog to be hijacked. Thank you.


The frustrating part about the Phelpsies is their use of that very First Amendment to get around the spirit of its intent. I agree that their activities are, and should remain, protected...

...however, I feel, too, that the court can and should order a ruling putting a cap on how many people, cities, towns, counties, organizations, etc that the WBC can take to court, and put a ceiling to the monetary settlements allowed to their organization (at tax-payer expense, particularly since -as a 'church', they are tax exempt). Cut off how they gain most of their funding, watch them disappear into obscurity where they belong.




Very well said! I as a gay man thought the same thing, if this is not constitutional, what will they take from me next. Terry


What would happen to a colony of gay lions.Their decendants will perish.What a waste way to live.


"We should not be looking for loopholes in the First Amendment."

We don't have to look very far, loopholes have existed for quite a long while. Some for trivial reasons, like protecting children from the sight of a naked breast, or hearing a four-letter word on television. I am not sure if you mean to imply that time and place restrictions would not be reasonable to apply to political demonstrations so as not to be disruptive to funeral services, but the Supreme Court seemed to hint that such restrictions would be constitutional.

I also think that, in fact, it may well be time to look for or create new loopholes in the First Amendment. Considering that corporate monies injected into the political election system (for the purposes of, let's be frank, corruption) are now considered protected political speech, it is high time that we create a new loophole to debar such practices, not embrace them as another valuable voice in the protected marketplace of ideas. Could we agree that there is a "compelling, positive argument" that corporate political spending does "material harm" and should not be protected?

I am also not sure if free speech absolutism ( maximalization?) is necessarily the only ethical and pragmatic approach. Germany, for example, seems not to have slid into the sea because of its adoption of carefully-specified restrictions on public Holocaust denial and explicit antisemitism. Most European countries have had content-specific laws proscribing certain categories of speech for decades now, and while some excesses have occurred (and generally were corrected), over all, most Europeans seem to appreciate the positive effect on society of these speech codes, defend them pretty vigorously on web forums, and do not appear to have any plans to change them.


I don't want to jump on the troll bait, but I'm making solomon's gay lions comment my facebook status today.

As far as the first amendment, I just want to add a "here here!." you've said so much more eloquently what I was trying to explain to people about the ruling.

Greta Christina

Noted... and yet somehow ignored, as evinced by the five troll-y comments within two hours. Solomon has now been put on the Blocked list. Bye.

Greta Christina
Germany, for example, seems not to have slid into the sea because of its adoption of carefully-specified restrictions on public Holocaust denial and explicit antisemitism.

And I think they are wrong to do so.

I'm not a First Amendment absolutist; as I pointed out in this piece, there are limits on speech that are reasonable, such as libel laws, copyright laws, false advertising laws, etc. (I do, in fact, support limits on corporate speech and political donations: mostly based on the principle that corporations are not, in fact, human beings with all the rights of human beings, and that the SCOTUS ruling declaring them to be human beings was among the greatest travesties in the history of that institution). And I think a good case could certainly be made for placing some restrictions on picketing funerals: staying a certain distance away, for instance, so the funeral isn't disrupted. But again, that's exactly what the WBC did in this case. They stayed a good distance away; they didn't disrupt the funeral.

Again, while I think there are some reasonable limits on free speech, I think that we should not be saying, "There are some reasonable limits on speech -- therefore, this limit is reasonable." I think that our default should be that speech should be permitted unless we have a powerfully compelling reason to restrict or ban it. And "This guy is an evil jackass and the things he says are revolting" is not a powerfully compelling reason.


I don't know. I think the Phelpses are useful. They're like a modern KKK without any of the attributes that cause people to sympathize with them. I don't know why people don't use them when homophobic blowhards show up to make a stink. Stick them between having defend their views, while distancing themselves from the Phelps clan.

They're like cartoon villains, except they're real.


The WBC is a litigation industry. They are mostly Phelps family members and many of them are lawyers. They are not trying to convert anyone. They are trying to provoke other people into attacking them or violating their rights. When that happens they sue the poor, provoked fool and win hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Wash, rinse, repeat.
Make fun of them. Ignore them. But don't bother getting angry at them - the people they are 'protesting' against are not their real targets. You, and your liability insurer, are.


m tryng t brng t trth, yt m lbld trll. D thsts llwys fr t hr th trth?


Wow. That is my gut reaction. 9th grade was my first interaction with the WBC. It really confused me to what I should think of myself as the written word said one thing and my hormones said another. It created a large pain in my mind that took me many years to get over. I am today 30 and an openly gay man to anyone who may have a question or conversation they may want to have with me on the topic of sexuality. The freedom of speech does need to be protected. The shock value someone says to another may hurt but in the long term it should help us become a stronger and wiser person.


I absolutely agree with you, Greta. As much as I abhor WBC and what they're doing, it's their right to do it.

What I will say is that what they're doing isn't necessarily a political or religious thing. I believe they are doing it to make money. It's all a scam. They follow the law to a "t", looking for someone to challenge them. Then they take the person(s) to court, hoping to get a monetary settlement. They are a family of lawyers, so they don't have to go looking for a lawyer to take on their case. Once they get a ruling that forces their opposition to pay legal fees or they get a monetary settlement, they've won. That's why they are using the most disgusting things they can, to elicit an emotional response. They're hoping WE will break the law, while they abide by it.

I just hope that they eventually do something to break the law, and get shut down. I'm hoping that some idiot who agrees with them, will show up at one of their protests, and do something stupid, and get the entire WBC shut down.


Unfortunately the U.S. is full of people that make the First Amendment look like a bad idea. Even so, we need to protect their right to make it look that way no matter how repugnant we find the things being said. The lens of our individual, unique experiences determines how we see the world around us. We tend to gravitate toward others that share similar experiences, hold similar views because that is where we are most comfortable and secure. The fact that other individuals and groups see things differently than our group does may shock, irritate, or sicken us, but the reverse may also be true. We can't run around banning every bit of speech that makes the First Amendment look like a bad idea just because it makes us uncomfortable -- if we do, what happens to our thoughts and ideas when we find ourselves holding the minority opinion? The First Amendment is about freedom of (or from) religion, freedom of being able to say what we think, the right to peaceably assemble and express those ideas, and the ability for the press to report/discuss/ignore all of the above and if we feel trampled upon by our government in the process we can petition to have the wrongs righted.

These people are vile and disgusting, but we have to allow them to make fools of themselves so that we can be afforded the same opportunity.


We encountered the Westboro Picket phenomenon at my college in February and I wrote up a four part series of posts about the experience. (
I have also linked this particular blog post of yours with our FB group "Survivor Here" which is a group that formed to be a support and activist group for survivors of any and everything, from rape to GLBT bashing to sharing hope and strength and letters and petitions and any other kinds of activism. Your words touch profoundly on what we do - the same freedom that gives Westboro the right to their activism, gives us the right to our activism. Pure and simple. Thank you very, very much.

Melody Jane

My argument may fall under the "limits to the First Amendment" clause, but I'll just put this out there anyway.

There are more limits to the 1st amendment than just yelling fire in a crowded theater. "Incite to violence", for example; Libel and Slander, Content Regulation of the Press by the FCC, it is illegal to lie to the police, are just a few. The first amendment, according to case law merely protects the free exchange of IDEAS. And even that is regulated by their intent and effect.

The reason I bring up these various exceptions is because, and as a parent of three toddlers I can COMPLETELY understand this particular necessity, there is a significant need to protect the masses from each other. Yeah, I did just compare the general public with toddlers.

I am not for regulating the free exchange of ideas. I am, however, for a people to peaceably assemble; more specifically, for funerals. There are some times, and some places where certain types of speech are regulated. Another perfect example is the regulation of political signs and campaigning within a certain radius around a voting establishment. Out side that radius, there are always people standing with signs attempting to sway voters. However, within that radius, people should have the right to vote in peace without being accosted.

Can you imagine, for example, people who felt that women or minorities should not be allowed to vote, intimidating voters as they attempted to walk in to vote? Bullying is not allowed. It's harassment and it is not only abhorrent, but illegal.

Picketing a funeral, and granted, this is my own opinion, is bullying. It's harassment and I can name several different ways that it bumps dangerously close to slander. I am not suggesting that the WBC not be allowed to picket or protest. I am not even suggesting that they not be allowed to picket funerals. However, I do believe that it is not unreasonable, nor outside the realm of legal precedent to create a "safe zone", for lack of a better phrase, similar to that around voting places, where picketing is simply not acceptable.

I understand that there are some horrible people in the world that people can think of that even the most chill personalities would consider picketing or even celebrating the death of. The funeral is just not the place. That is the time for the family to bury their dead. Picket the graves site after the funeral, picket outside a reasonable distance, write letters to your congresswo/men, shoot off fireworks, whatever you feel is necessary to let the world know just how giddy you are that that person is dead and why. But let the family put their dead to rest in peace.


While the Westboro Baptist Church does indeed have a right to engage in their vile, vicious, incredibly offensive "protests" which must be protected as long as they remain non-violent and keep a reasonable distance from their targets (as they did in this case and do in general), Fred Phelps himself ought to be doing life in prison for torturing his children.


It all boils down to the old adage (often erroneously attributed to Voltaire) of "I absolutely loathe what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."

I have to agree with Greta Christina that outlawing "public Holocaust denial" and "explicit antisemitism" has indeed been a bad idea! It is crystal clear why they did it – but these restrictions on free speech have in fact backfired badly: whenever there are legitimate debates over Israel's politics – spawned by critical op-ed pieces or interviews – the "Central Council of Jews in Germany" comes running, labels it as "pure antisemitism", throws in a good measure of "Holocaust denial" accusations and usually succeeds in getting critics silenced and/or fired.

Again, I totally see why german lawmakers once thought it was wise to put these restrictions in place. But the only thing they did accomplish by limiting free speech is to make the Central Council of Jews in Germany a reviled institution that many people don't take serious anymore: mission accomplished!

Same thing goes for the recently revived idea of outlawing the german neonazi party: awfully dumb move, because in reality it bolsters support for these freaks who otherwise would never stand a real chance in national elections.

Also, it tells the german people, that their government does not really trust them in their ability to make morally and politically sound decisions!

No big surprise that the same politicos who are in favor of these bans and restrictions last year came up with a proposal for a blasphemy law that sought to put people in jail for "unduly criticizing" organized religions or "hurt the religious feelings" of the believers (the muslims and the catholics loved the idea). Fortunately, this abomination was slapped down pretty fast in public discourse!


I congratulate you Greta, it's extremely hard to write about something like this without getting caught up in the poison trap.

I recall a documentary called "The most hated family in America" And a video journalist actually lived in their compound for a week, and was able to successfully steer a few of the members away from the cult. He has since been asked to return, and will hopefully bring more people to the light side!

The comments to this entry are closed.

Subscribe/ Donate to This Blog!

Books of mine

Greta on SSA Speakers Bureau

  • Greta Christina is on the Speakers Bureau of the Secular Students Alliance. Invite her to speak to your group!

Your email address:

Powered by FeedBlitz

Powered by Rollyo

Some Favorite Posts and Conversations: Atheism

Some Favorite Posts and Conversations: Sex

Some Favorite Posts: Art, Politics, Other Stuff