There's real hate in this world, no doubt. There seems little question about that.
But there's hate, and then there's just plain old-fashioned greed.
Westboro Baptist Church uses elements of the former in the service of the latter.
The Westboro crowd are the same freaks that have protested near military funerals for years. The U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled that they can continue to do so, as their "protesting" is protected First Amendment free speech in the eyes of 5 out of 9 justices.
Westboro -- I hesitate to use the term "church" because they're a church in the same sense that reality TV has anything to do with reality -- are visiting Savannah May 22 and 27 to protest at several churches and schools.
What are they protesting? Supposedly their infamous "God Hates Fags" signs point out a belief that America has allowed itself to fall into moral decay by accepting homosexuality.
They protest at soldiers' funerals, they say, because the soldiers have died, deservedly, defending a morally corrupt system.
Why are they protesting at schools? Who knows? Who cares? It doesn't matter, because the whole thing's a scam.
The Westboro protesters are mostly attorneys. Their entire goal -- the whole reason they're coming to Savannah -- is to get someone to violate their civil rights (civil rights now further reinforced by the Supreme Court).
When they get shoved, or punched, or -- and this is what they really want -- run off a public sidewalk by an overzealous local cop, they sue the bejeezus out of whoever did it.
Why the signs? Why the homophobia?
Simple. They take two highly charged words -- "God" and "fags" -- and put them in the same sentence specifically in order to get the most visceral possible reaction out of people.
Then they protest at places we can all agree no protesting should ever happen: The funeral of a fallen soldier, a school in session.
They stay only long enough for the cameras to find them and to see if trouble will start.
When the cameras leave, they leave.
Don't be misled. They aren't making political statements. They're con artists, pure and simple.
While this certainly isn't the first time the John Roberts Supreme Court has sided with con artists (Citizens United v. FEC, anyone?), it's one of the more egregious examples.
I'm often labeled/accused of being "in the First Amendment business" -- usually by people who want to post something offensive on my Facebook page -- but I'm not obliged to be sympathetic to all speech. Nor are you.
Contrary to popular opinion, we don't enjoy total, unfettered freedom of speech in this country. Nor should we.
You aren't allowed to make terroristic threats, you aren't allowed to make demonstrably false claims in advertising, and of course there's the classic "yell ‘Fire' in a crowded theater" test, among the many examples of speech that is not protected under the Constitution.
In my opinion, Westboro is engaged in unprotected and illegal inflammatory speech specifically designed to provoke violence.
Not to mention they're disturbing the peace, an act for which you would no doubt spend some time in the Chatham County Jail!
If you aren't allowed to get drunk and yell in the street without getting arrested and/or tased and beaten up by the cops -- go ahead, try it and see what happens -- then they shouldn't be allowed to march with horribly offensive signs near funerals and schools.
This is all so simple. Or should be.
I have no idea why a group of people so transparent in their misrepresentation are encouraged by our highest court to make a mockery of the Constitution. And I have no idea why the IRS has chosen not to closely examine Westboro's claim of being a "church."
But it is what it is, as the pundits say these days, and we have to deal with it somehow.
For now, all we can do is represent. We need to show our children that such behavior is not principled protest, but a cheap masquerade.
Let's show Westboro with nonviolent engagement that we aren't falling for their scam.
We'll have more in-depth coverage of the specifics in next week's issue.