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Posted on Tuesday, March 30th, 2010

Dave!"My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth."
— 1 John 3:18, King James Bible

I do not often speak of my religious and philosophical beliefs because they are deeply personal to me, and not open for debate on this blog (as most everything I write here ends up being). Suffice to say that I try to lead my life according to Buddhist precepts of doing no harm but don't actually consider myself a Buddhist because I do not follow these precepts as completely as a "true" Buddhist would. That being said, I have studied several different religions in an effort to understand my fellow humans better. Needless to say this includes the many flavors of Christianity.

In my pursuit of comprehending Christians, I have studied The Bible (both Old and New Testament) from several different approaches... including the placement of the Holy Texts in their historical context. From this respect, I am probably better-informed as to their faith than most self-professed Christians are. Especially those who would take some random piece of Scripture... put it in a 20th century context based on modern-day vernacular, customs, and thinking... and then use said Scripture to attack or persecute people. That always drives me nuts because of the sublime ignorance it takes to use the Word of their God as a weapon when, more often than not, the people doing so have no clue as to what that passage actually means. Instead they are using their personal interpretation of a translation of an accounting of texts taken out of context to promote a personal agenda, often in ways that would have originally been impossible... either due to the mores of the time period, or the constructs of the original Hebrew, Aramaic, or Koine Greek language in which The Bible was written.

I can best explain this by using an example: "Awful" originally meant "full of awe" and was used to describe something spectacular instead of something horrible. And that's a relatively RECENT AND UNTRANSLATED example, which was still showing up in English texts under the original meaning just two hundred years ago. Can you imagine how the meaning of words could have changed with translation to another language over the span of two thousand years or more?

In defense of Christians, however, I believe that many of them understand that The Bible is not something that can be taken literally all the time. The ideals within The Bible are immutable to their faith, but certain allowances have to be made for the era in which the Holy Texts were written, and the creative allegory which the authors used to illustrate concepts of Christianity to the people living during those times. Certainly directives such as "Thou Shalt Not Kill" are as true in meaning now as they were back then... but you simply cannot say the same for everything that's in The Bible, or else modern-day Christians would have some very messed-up ways of practicing their faith.

Not to say that there aren't some Christians out there who are doing their best to prove me wrong.

And though the remainder of this entry will be in response to actions of the Westboro Baptist Church, I want to be very clear that I do not consider them unique in their ability to use The Word of their God to do things I consider to be reprehensible. Obviously, the world is replete with examples of peoples of all faiths doing exactly that. It just so happens that this time it's the Westboro Baptist Church who are the ones that caught my attention.

But before I start my little tirade, I should also mention that I fully support members of the Westboro Baptist Church exercising their right to free speech in a manner that complies with the freedoms allowed by that right. I may not agree with the things they say, but I'm sure there are people out there who would say the same thing about me, so more power to them. From their perspective, they are actually trying to help people by raising awareness of their particular interpretation of The Bible, and since they are not using guns or explosives to do it, well... this is The United States of America. If you can't take people expressing themselves and their beliefs, then you really need to find a different country.


There has to be limits.

There has to be limits because a healthy democratic society not only allows for personal freedoms, but also allows for protection from harm and cruelty that might arise from such freedoms. As an example, your personal freedom of speech does not allow you to scream "HEY! THERE'S A FIRE!" in the middle of a crowded building. Doing so could result in people getting hurt, not to mention being a really mean thing to do. Likewise, you can't sacrifice a virgin to Zuul in the middle of Central Park and cry "freedom of religion" because you've just grossly violated the rights and freedoms of the virgin you just killed... even if they were a willing participant (especially if they were a willing participant). Some would say that freedom with limits is not really freedom at all, but "freedom" is a pretty open-ended word and could easily be perverted to allow persecution of people whose own freedom would be violated in the process of enacting it. Thus, limits.

So, while I support the Westboro Baptist Church for their hate-speech fueled picketing of whatever their latest target might be (as well as those awesome people who picket in response) I also support the idea that their actions should be limited.

Because it's one thing to say "homosexuality is wrong" in the most disgusting way possible... but it's another thing entirely to cause serious emotional cruelty with intent to harm, such as when they picket a funeral. And though I consider the death of a soldier no more tragic than the death of any person, I have to say that picketing the funeral of a fallen soldier who died in service of this country is particularly heinous considering it was soldiers who died for their right to have free speech in the first place...


The Bible is relatively quiet about funerals and how Christians should treat the dead. Probably because the core concept of Christianity is the idea of eternal life. To Christians death is just a beginning, so whatever ceremony people want to have for those departed (not to mention the method they use for disposing of the remains) is up to them and whatever traditions they hold.

And so even though the Westboro Baptist Church can toss out whatever context-deprived and misrepresented snippets of The Bible they wish to support their actions, their ruthless persecution of people who are grieving over the death of friends or family is a truly indefensible position to take. Because while The Bible is not so explicit with how one should treat the dead, it is overflowing with passages as to how you should treat the living. Thus, to say that the Westboro Baptist Church violates the very ideals of The Bible they profess to live by, truly is an understatement of biblical proportions.

Which is why I am understandably outraged when I read that Al Snyder, the father of a Marine whose funeral was picketed by the Westboro Baptist Church, has been ordered to pay them $16,000 as compensation for their court costs. The father had (rightfully) won an earlier judgement on the grounds that privacy and religious rights were violated by the church's protest but, since the church won on appeal to the Fourth Circuit, a grieving father gets screwed... again... this time financially.

And now I sit here dumbfounded, trying to figure out exactly how our Founding Fathers could have possibly anticipated such a grotesque application of The Bill of Rights as they were writing them.

Probably because there is no way they could have anticipated something as wholly fucked up as this when The First Amendment was drafted.

I find it sickening on every possible level that we have a legal system which not only actively supports people's "right" to inflict such reprehensible cruelty, but also dictates that victims of such cruelty are responsible for paying for their own deplorable treatment at the hands of the law. THIS is justice? How? There is no justice for the father who was ruthlessly abused in a time of sorrow. There sure as hell is no justice for a dead Marine who is unable to speak out against the abuse of friends and loved-ones at HIS funeral. By the courts saying that there are no limits to the freedoms of the Westboro Baptist Church to persecute people, how can the rest of us be free?

Exploiting the tragedy of somebody's death for glorification of their church and self-promotion of their hate makes members of the Westboro Baptist Church about the least "Christian" people on earth. It also makes them fucking assholes. I honestly believe that a time is coming when citizens of the United States of America are going to put aside their petty political bitching and focus on the big-picture items upon which all of us should be able to agree. Very high on that list is not allowing fucking assholes to picket a funeral and deprive a grieving father HIS freedom to mourn in peace.

Mutual respect for your fellow humans is the only way this whole "freedom" thing is ever going to work out. Those who have no respect, don't deserve the freedom.


If you want to show your support for Al Snyder, you can join the Facebook group he made to support his son and legal battles.

You can also help by donating money to Mr. Snyder to pay the court-mandated fees associated with Westboro Baptist Church's appeal. Any monies collected in excess of the costs will be donated to scholarship funds for returning veterans.

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Categories: News - Politics 2010Click To It: Permalink


  1. A. Lewis says:

    Amen and praise the lord.

  2. Hol says:

    Well said Dave. Thanks for posting this.

  3. claire says:

    I’d heard about their funeral picketing before, but making the father pay them?! The whole thing is outrageous.

    Ignorance and cruelty make me feel ill.

    • Dave2 says:

      Who knew doing the right thing would have such a cost? Picketing funerals is just wrong, no matter what the circumstances. Everybody is loved by somebody, and abusing them during mourning is just too horrible to be allowed… legal or not.

  4. RW says:

    Westboro distresses me to no end. I reject them as equally as anyone who would say that Christianity “caused” their behavior.

    I’ve not only joined the Facebook group, I’ve disseminated it to my friends. Well done Dave. Well done indeed

    As Quakers we hold that nothing in the Bible is to be taken literally, simply because you cannot reconcile the conflicting advices, we don’t believe in slavery, and we don’t think people should be stoned for adultery. The Bible is a collection of writings (and this is important to remember) that was EDITED by human committee. And the last time I looked there hasn’t been a perfect human yet. The example for Christians, I think, is Jesus, who befriended the outcast of society. The sad thing about Westboro is that they forgot the paramount metaphor. But they are not alone. Think of how many ministers beat the pulpit bloody exhorting their young men to kill the German, kill the Englishman, kill the Frenchman.

    Nice aim Dave. This was a true bull’s eye.

    • Dave2 says:

      Thanks! Unfortunately, those who claim to live by Jesus’ example so rarely live up to the promise. Would Jesus cause such horrible cruelty at a time when a man was grieving and burying his son? I simply cannot fathom it… no matter what the sins of the father OR the son (either real or imagined). On the contrary, there is clear precedence in scripture for Jesus being a source of compassion and comfort during such a time. When Jesus raised the widow’s son (Luke 7) his only recorded words were ones of comfort… “weep not.” If the Westboro Baptist Church were truly followers of Jesus, their signs would surely not be painted with messages of hate.

  5. B.E. Earl says:

    Fred Phelps is a disgusting and evil human being. I don’t even understand the purpose of his church’s protests. I guess they are protesting against the government, its war and its policies toward gay Americans, but that’s not what’s coming across when they picket a funeral of a fallen soldier.

    It just comes across as mean and incredibly insensitive. Certainly not something that Jesus or his disciples would have done.

    • Dave2 says:

      Which is ultimately the litmus test of anyone claiming to be a Christian. The very idea of Jesus abusing a grieving father is in complete opposition to His teachings. How they can’t see this is just beyond me.

  6. muskrat says:

    I hate these motherfuckers. Besides the obvious reasons, I’ve watched people die in war, and I go to a Christian church. Again, I hate these people.

    • Dave2 says:

      I try not to hate anybody, but their vile hatred towards people is so brutal that it is very, very difficult. The only thing that keeps me from going there is that they are so obviously not worth your hatred. Their motivation is not bringing people to salvation, but to bring themselves attention. They just love the spotlight their hatred brings them, as is evidence of the television appearances they so obviously crave. I cannot imagine Jesus approving of such wasted, worthless, vainglorious lives.

  7. Sybil Law says:

    Holy shit.

  8. Finn says:

    Jaysus. What some people won’t do in God’s name. I’m certain it pisses him off to no end.

    About the interpretation issue, I like to remind people that Cinderella originally wore a silk slipper, not a glass one. The old French word for silk is similar to the modern French word for glass. It was mistranslated and thus Cindy’s uncomfortable footwear.

  9. Tina says:

    Yep, this did it, I’m going to finally comment. Months of enjoying your blog have led me to do two things: send a package through anysoldier and donate to this legal fund. Helping is what it means to be American.

  10. Chaz says:

    There is nothing that these individuals are doing that brings honor to the God they purportedly follow. In all honesty, it’s a bit disingenuous that they are represented as “Christians” as both their methods and message are clearly in conflict with the tenets professed in the Bible. These individuals are as Christian as Richard Dawkins (i.e., clearly not Christian at all).

    I do agree with you wholeheartedly that free speech is a wonderful thing to a certain LIMIT. Simply because you have the right to do something does not itself make that thing right.

    • Dave2 says:

      I guess there’s just no telling how some people are going to interpret The Bible, nor can we know what makes them latch on to the passages they do to justify their hate. I honestly think that some people are just evil, and anything they can use to add weight to their hatred… no matter how perverted past the original intent… is good enough for them. It’s as if they don’t want to take responsibility for being homophobic haters, so they just use the excuse “The Bible made me do it” rather than own up to it.

  11. I often wonder what Westboro’s reaction would be if a large group picketed one of their member’s funerals. I somehow think it wouldn’t end well.

    I appreciate this post more than you might know.

    • Dave2 says:

      I honestly don’t know. I would hope that we never find out because, though appropriate, it would make us no better than them. 🙁

  12. Kelly says:

    This story makes me physically ill.

    “Mutual respect for your fellow humans is the only way this whole “freedom” thing is ever going to work out. Those who have no respect, don’t deserve the freedom.”

    I agree 100%.

    • Dave2 says:

      Sadly, there are all too many people who don’t, so “freedom” isn’t all it’s cracked up to be now-a-days. Lack of a respect is ultimately the root of most of our problems.

  13. Sarah says:

    Um…wow. People are cruel.

  14. *lynne* says:

    During my time in the US, observing all the goings-on in this amazing country, all too often I find myself thinking “OMG just because you can [i.e. have the freedom to] do something, doesn’t mean you *should*!” … essentially my way of trying to express what you have so eloquently stated in this post about the need for LIMITs.

    The US really is an amazing country… sad thing is, it could be so much more, if it wasn’t for the in-fighting going on, fueled by ignorance and hate, fanned by politicians, bigots, and the like.

    I’ve joined the FB group, and I’ve pointed friends to this post, hopefully this’ll help spread the word.

    Excellent post, btw 🙂

    • Dave2 says:

      It could be more, but the basic principles upon which this country were founded should be good enough to govern with fairness. That it failed here is what’s truly sad. Those who would abuse their freedoms to the detriment of others shouldn’t be allowed to have freedom in the first place. Abusing a grieving father like this should be cause for jail-time at the very least.

  15. Geekytaitai says:

    This is just horrible. You can be sure I’ll join the FB group and donate to Mr. Snyder’s legal fund. Thank you for bringing this to our attention.

    • Dave2 says:

      It truly is horrible, and I think anybody who can put themselves in Mr. Snyders place would agree that this is clearly wrong. I get upset all over again every time I think about it.

  16. John says:

    Not only are there moral limits, but legal too. Our system is governed most supremely by the Declaration of Independence, not the Constitution. The Declaration has very few rules, and basically instructed a future America to create another document to govern more specifically, and says we have a right to overturn such a document. This is how we got rid of the Articles of Confederation, and put in the Constitution. But, one of the key principles of the Declaration is that we have three rights that cannot be touched by any of these future documents- “…certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness”. (had Property instead of Pursuit of Happiness in the draft, but if it made it to final, it would be written as “Right to Own Property”, so as not to be socialistic. But actually, it was taken out to please southern states about slavery.) These rights cannot be affected be any other document, including the Constitution. (Some say Liberty should have prevented slavery in the first place, but that’s behind us now) So, if your constitutional or amended rights interfere with the three unalienable rights, you do not have those rights.
    Thus, their “free speech” is interfering with Al Snyder’s right to Pursue Happiness, as they are dogging his life. Thus they do not have free speech in that situation. (Keep in mind that that is Pursue Happiness, not Happiness. They have to prevent you from finding happiness, not just make you unhappy in order to annul the right.)

    • Dave2 says:

      The ultimate law of our country is The Constitution. Though many feel that the ideals originally stated in the Declaration of Independence are how the law should be interpreted, so I can see that.

  17. Breigh says:

    This was so well written and I agree with you 100%. I am non-religious but very curious about different religions and faith. I also believe in free speech. I couldn’t have explained it any better than you though, there must be limits with everything.

    I feel so sorry for Mr.Snyder. What a horrible thing to have to go through.

    Thanks for writing this.

    • Dave2 says:

      A person’s faith is so intrinsic to who they are, how they live, and what they believe, that I find it’s the only way to really get to know them. Of course, when it comes to the Westboro Baptist Church, I’m more confused than ever, so it doesn’t always work. 🙁

  18. muskrat says:

    PS- the “there’s a fire!” example is the one always used in first amendment classes in lawschool. you brought back pleasant memories with that one.

  19. Avitable says:

    I believe, if I read it correctly, that the reason the court costs are so high (Phelps’s daughter is an attorney) is because they made hundreds of thousands of photocopies of unnecessary “documentation” at a cost of .50/copy just for the express purpose of making it a financial burden on someone. They’re not a church – they’re a vile hate group.

    • Dave2 says:

      Wow. Just when you think it can’t possibly be any worse… it is. We see the law being perverted past the original intent so often that you’d think something could be done to halt things like this from happening. Even if it’s just a clerk with the power to examine the court costs and find them reasonable or unreasonable. Of course, I find this whole thing unreasonable, so maybe I’m not the best person to be commenting.

    • Breigh says:

      Why does this not surprise me…

  20. y not i says:

    Excellent piece, Dave.
    I consider myself a Christian, but I have always struggled with the idea of the Bible being the ultimate and indisputable Word of God, especially given that there are hundreds, if not thousands, of different versions of the book, all edited — as RW points out — by HUMANS with their own beliefs and their own agendas over the centuries.
    I constantly find myself arguing WITH FELLOW CHRISTIANS that we need to focus on the IDEALS set forth in the Bible (and how we can best apply them in today’s society) instead of using the WORDS in the Bible as a weapon against things or people with whom we don’t agree.
    It all boils down to one thing for me — follow the Golden Rule: Love thy neighbor as thyself. Mutual respect, as you said. That alone would go a long way toward improving society (maybe an impossible ideal, but certainly one worth striving for).

    PS – Check out “The Year of Living Biblically” by AJ Jacobs if you haven’t read it yet. It goes into some of these same issues of Biblical literalism. I think you would enjoy it.

    • Dave2 says:

      Living by the example set by Jesus should be the ultimate goal of every Christian. This would lead to a life of compassion and love rather than anger and hate. This is not to say that Jesus was never angry (driving the moneylenders out of the temple is a good example)… but this was not the overlaying theme of His life, nor the sacrifice He made for all mankind.

  21. That is just vile. Exactly how are Westboro Baptist Church not officially labeled as a hate group? Boggles the bloody mind. Fuckers.

  22. martymankins says:

    Extremely well stated.

    The sad state of legal wrangling and massaging is the result where the real victim is the one who gets screwed. And as you said, I seriously doubt this is what the First Amendment was originally drafted to support.

  23. Beth says:

    I love that you say what needs to be said, without fear of backlash….I know you’re being hated on for writing this, but it just makes me love you more!

  24. Christopher Stogdill says:

    I took the rather rare step (for me) and took the time to write my Representative and both Senators to let them know that this situation bothers me and that I would like them to keep protesters away from funerals.

    There is more that I’d like to say, but one raving group of assholes on this blog are sufficient.

    • Dave2 says:

      That’s an good idea! I don’t know what political reps can do to weigh in on legal matters with the courts, but I’d think everything done to draw attention to this travesty of justice helps.

  25. Poppy says: is a real site?!



    • Dave2 says:

      Yes, unfortunately it is all too real. And I have no idea why God would make something that offends him so badly… either he’s a total masochist, or he actually made them for the same reason he made everybody else: he loves them.

  26. hdw says:

    As a parent, I CANNOT IMAGINE my son going off to war and finding these jackasses at his funeral.

    Thanks for this post – extremely well-said and absolutely heartbreaking.

  27. Tug says:

    Amazing post Dave…this literally turns my stomach. I don’t really believe in karma, but I’d like to be proven wrong in this case.

  28. Etienne says:

    Being gay, these people don’t just upset me, they piss me off so much that I want to see things happen to them in biblical, apocalyptic proportions. Y’know, kinda like a Hieronymus Bosch painting of hell…only I want to see it happen to them on the picket line with the Hand of God personally coming out of the sky and turning loose a fistful of devils, demons, & beasties on ’em. Then, I try to let it go (I said try) because after all those years of Sunday school, the biggest thing I took away was, I’d try to live by the golden rule and it’s worked out pretty well, so far.

    What really gets me is that all of these people keep quoting the old testament to justify their “Christian Way” when Jesus seemed to be trying to rewrite it every time he turned around by pointing out it’s flaws and saying “The bible says ______ but, I say unto you…”

    Thus endeth the sermon

  29. MIke says:

    I think the thing that disturbs me most is the involvement of children to spread their message of intolerance and insensitivity. What they do is inhumane and cruel but using innocent children to push their agenda makes it, in my opinion, worse. If nothing else, it means we have maybe 50 more years of this level of stupidity with us.

    I was wondering why the military doesn’t step in and push for a rules regarding the funereal rights of fallen servicemen and women. I don’t think it would violate their “freedom of speech” to have to be restricted to a zone of say, one mile from where the funereal and burial is being held. Personally I don’t agree with the war but this is an insult to the people who have made the highest sacrifice for their nation and the military should protect its own, especially when they are unable to protect themselves. I think they are letting the families down here.

    But you see, the problem goes deeper than a bunch of lunatics holding signs. This horrible exercise of the abuse of liberty must be supported by officials and judges, whatever because there are already numerous laws which would make this sort of thing next to impossible.
    Disturbance of the peace, for example. Why limit the term “disturbance” to merely making noise? This is a visual disturbance of the peace. Some of the signs border of propagating hate as well.

    If nothing else, the local news media must be tacitly allowing these people to propagate their message- probably for ratings. It is a shame for their local community and shame for Christians and a shame for humanity and yet, you see all these smiling people holding signs filled with hate without the capacity to feel any shame at all.

    Thanks Dave, you are my hero.. again.

  30. Peggy Archer says:

    Why can’t we get these soulless ghouls listed as terrorists? That’s what they are.

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