I think it goes without saying that the Westboro Baptist Church may be one of the most bigoted, ignorant, and hateful groups to ever figure out how to glue a piece of wood to poster board.
In choosing to target funerals, and therefore families in their absolute weakest moments, they demonstrate just how petty and how far detached they are from reality and true human empathy they are, all for a misguided ideal which holds a few stray lines denouncing homosexuality in Leviticus over the fundamental decree to love your neighbor.
Despite all this, and despite the fact that saying this goes against my own reactions and my own emotions, they are as protected under the First Amendment and our conceptions of morality as anyone else, and as long as they remain non-violent in their speech should be allowed to do what they do.
The reason is, ironically, because if we are to truly claim the moral high ground of treating our neighbor as we want to be treated, we must have the strength to do so even when our neighbor does not feel the same.
If we were to silence the Westboro Baptist Church, we would be denying them the same courtesy and the same fundamental rights that they wish to deny to those they hate; I wouldn’t go as far as to say that puts us on their level, but it certainly cheapens our own arguments and our own rights.
I do not wish to sound insensitive; I am sure that the actions of the Westboro Baptist Church have caused considerable emotional pain to people who certainly do not need more of it. And I cannot say that they should just forgive or that they should tolerate; I know if I were in their position it’d be very unlikely I could.
But as individuals who value the right to our own expression and opinions we must imagine what it would be like if we couldn’t speak our own minds, if what we thought were suddenly considered so shocking that we needed to be silenced.
How horrible would it be if the roles were reversed, and the Westboro Baptist Church could control our speech?
So, it is very easy to be angry at the ignorant “congregation” that calls itself the Westboro Baptist Church, and we have every right to be so. It is very easy to be led by our powerful disgust and ire into simply fighting back, and we have the might and superior influence as a majority opinion to do so.
But it is infinitely stronger of us to tolerate them as they do not us. In doing so, we not only allow them to look even moreso like the bigots and fools they are, but demonstrate for them what tolerance, dignity, and human respect really are.