Thursday, November 1, 2007

The Fred Phelps post.

As a Kansas Citian, I think I'm legally obligated to comment on the Fred Phelps $10.9 million dollar lawsuit.

As a teenager, I attended Broadway Baptist Church, which was often the target of Phelps and his cult due to the gay-friendly nature of the congregation. One of my high school teachers also attended the church with her family. One Sunday, as my teacher and her family were leaving the church, her father put his arm around her brother. The Phelps cult was on site that day, and as soon as they saw two men with their arms around each other's shoulders, they started in with the "God hates fags" bullshit. My teacher and her family are better people and better Christians than the Phelps cult, and as such they simply turned the other proverbial cheek and ignored the venom. But Phelps had certainly shook them up a bit - not so much for what he said, but for how he went about spreading his message of hate. It's a powerful thing, being in the presence of so much anger and psychosis.

On the surface, Phelps and his cult appear to be protected under the umbrella of free speech. I obviously think what they do is disgusting, but as the quotation goes, "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." That said, there are limits to what we can say. We can't say to a stranger "I'm going to kill you" because that is a threat. Just as we can't yell "Fire!" when there isn't one because that's reckless endangerment.The Phelps cult can't picket the funerals of soldiers with their "God hates fags" message because that's "defamation, invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress." So what we're looking at here isn't a free speech issue - it's a defamation, invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress issue.

It's one thing for Phelps to say ignorant, ridiculous, hateful things - the Fox News Channel does that every day - but he stepped over a societal boundary by intending to cause emotional harm to others by making shit up. That's the basis of "do unto others as you would have done unto you." Apparently, Phelps skipped past that part of the Bible.

Speaking of Fox News, I wonder how their viewers and readers are handling this whole Phelps thing. I mean, it seriously must make most of their heads explode. On the one hand, many of them probably "hate fags" as much as the Phelps crew. But they "support the troops," so the whole picketing funerals thing must be a turn-off for them.

Anyway, I don't like to give any attention at all to Phelps and his cult, but a nearly $11 million decision against them is worth mentioning.

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