Monday, July 12, 2010

God hates ... Superman?

The cost of having cherished ideas is periodically having to check them to make sure they still make sense. Wake me in the night and ask me if I believe in free speech; yes, I will say, absolutely, because as long as you can think for yourself, no idea is more dangerous than ignorance, no utterance worse than censorship.

And then you hear about stupid people like this, and you have to double-check.

Today I was informed that representatives of the Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church are planning to protest Comic-Con in San Diego on its opening day—Thursday, July 22. For those of you fortunate enough to be unfamiliar with these wretched souls, I will explain, briefly, but not torture you (or gratify them) with a link to their disgusting website.

The members of the Westboro Baptist Church (which is not affiliated with any larger Baptist organization) believe that God hates … well, everybody who isn’t them, basically. But especially gays. And Jews. And Catholics. And the citizens of pretty much every nation on earth (the church sponsors a website called, I kid you not, “God Hates the World”). WBC founder Fred Phelps and his followers first came to national attention by picketing military funerals, screaming epithets at mourners and family members of dead servicemen, shrieking at widows and bereaved friends that their loved ones had died because America tolerates homosexuality and that “God hates” a word I won’t use on this blog but that rhymes with “flags.” They also travel around the country picketing celebrity funerals, high schools, and seemingly random institutions (including, recently, the San Francisco offices of Twitter). Their stated goal is to “spread God’s hate”; it’s also quite likely that they just like being on television.

Now, I have to say I am delighted by the response to these public outpourings of venom. Among others, a biker brigade consisting primarily of military veterans has taken to attending funerals at the request of the bereaved families and revving their engines to drown out the WBC yahoos. Other counter-protestors have taken to playing Israeli folk music and Lady Gaga songs very loudly, or running surrealist protests of their own; the WBC protestors left Twitter after about 20 minutes, perhaps because the news media were training their cameras on well-dressed surrealists smiling and carrying placards with slogans such as “I Have A Sign,” “I Was Promised Donuts,” and “God Hates Retweets.” (The surrealists stayed a while longer, posing for photos with passersby.)

Phelps et al. have apparently decided that Comic-Con needs a good screaming-at because “[Fans] have turned comic book characters into idols, and worship them they do!” Never mind that these people don’t seem to have noticed that Comic-Con isn’t primarily about comics anymore—it’s long been about pop culture in general, including movies, TV shows, anime, books, cosplay, etc. If all goes according to the WBC plan, there will be a ragtag group of crazies standing outside the convention center with brightly colored signs, shrieking their heads off about how much God hates pretty much everyone in the city of San Diego.

And you know what? I’m okay with that.

Granted, I would not want my three-year-old niece exposed to the vile poison these morons are spewing—she tends to repeat random words, especially naughty ones. I consider the WBC’s activities an affront to the faith I practice—but that faith requires that I correct them in love, and then, if necessary, shun them. But I believe now, as I did before I began this entry, that any idea worth believing can survive an occasional intellectual challenge—and if it can’t, it’s not an idea worth believing. I believe in free speech, that people should be allowed to say whatever they like, no matter how nasty or vile, as long as that speech does not directly interfere with the rights of anyone else.

That means that as long as the WBC protestors are not, for example, physically blocking the entrance to the convention center or trying to crash the con without a pass, I’m willing to let them scream whatever they like from a public sidewalk. I support the right of WBC members to scream obscenities—and I support the rights of motorcyclists and surrealists to drown them out and steal the attention they so desperately crave. If by some miracle they’re still going at it on Sunday, when I and my friends will be making our way to the con, I will pass them by, secure in the conviction that anyone with half a brain knows how stupid these people sound, and that anyone without half a brain won’t survive at Comic-Con long enough to spread the poison.

I think this was an ill-considered decision on the WBC’s part, actually, and I feel just a bit sorry for them. Imagine, if you will, a little band of attention junkies with multicolored signs, screaming their lungs out in front of the San Diego Convention Center … all while surrounded by people dressed up as superheroes and vampire slayers and anime characters and Jedi Knights, people who will be laughing and shouting and singing and generally having a fabulous time because, for a few days out of the year, they are with their tribe. How on earth do Fred Phelps and his followers think that anyone will notice them in a crowd like that?

Prejudice intact. I can rest easy.

Oh, and I’m taking submissions for the best counter-protests, on the off chance they’re needed. So far the leading candidates are “God loves death rays” and the Backpack Coyote holding a sign saying, “I was promised roadrunners.”


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Here's a problem: we know there are limits on free speech. Shouting fire in a crowded theater when there isn't one, words that lead to treason, and "your money or your life" is illegal unless you're Jack Benny.

    When you look at the case filed against this Left wing moron (he ran as a democrat, strangely enough), about showing up at military funerals, it's odd. A jury filed for the soldier's father, on the grounds of intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED). A judge overthrew it.

    Unlike many legal concepts, IIED is not an obscure legal doctrine written in pig Latin: speech or conduct specifically intended to inflict emotional distress.

    The Second Restatement of Torts (1965) defines IIED as conduct "so outrageous in character, and so extreme in degree, as to go beyond all possible bounds of decency, and to be regarded as atrocious, and utterly intolerable in a civilized community."

    As a respected New York judge, Judith Kaye, described it, "The tort is as limitless as the human capacity for cruelty."

    If a group of lunatics standing outside the funeral of a fallen American serviceman with hateful signs about the deceased does not constitute intentional infliction of emotional distress, I'm sure something's messed up somewhere.

    With the people of Comic Con, I'm sure that they'll be able to handle their own. I've been to enough Cons where the predominant fashion accessory is sharp hardware, and plastic ties come off outside the Con. Muahaha.

    But as a Catholic, and on his hate list (twice if you count that I know Yiddish), I have a thought. I'm sure that you can point out that Jesus was a strange visitor not of this Earth, born with powers and ... See Moreabilities far beyond those of mortal men. And, if you go by the first film, his spaceship looks an awful lot like the star of Bethlehem. And I forget, in the third year he rose again, right?

    I can do this all day..... says the man wearing a t-shirt that says Waterboarding Instructor.

  3. Oh, agreed. And I agree with your reasonable restrictions--fire in a crowded theater, etc. And the right to free speech does not protect those who exercise it from the consequences of that speech--including things like being sued for slander or libel, or intentional infliction of emotional distress. As one of my favorite philosophers is fond of saying, "Freedom to choose means freedom to take the consequences."

    And I would argue that, in this case, revving a Harley engine or yelling "I will continue to shout until I am given donuts!" is just as protected as the bile these folks are spewing.