The “Culture Wars” are dumb. Who even knows what the expression really means? It seems to me it’s a struggle between the tolerant and intolerant in which the intolerant paint the tolerant as “intolerant” of their intolerance in the name of maintaining their intolerance in the wake of the tolerants’ “intolerance.” In less-confusing rhetoric, everyone is “evil” except those who support the privileges of rich, white, heterosexual men. That definitely includes me, a badge I wear with pride.
Sometimes, this struggle gets interesting when in-group fighting breaks out. A great recent example I covered here on the blog was when Bill O’Reilly defended a lesbian couple (who I later chastised). It’s like on TV shows when the good guys go bad and the bad guys go good. It can be amusing to sit back and watch. But it also warrants a probing analysis.
Let’s take the Snyder v. Phelps case. Here’s a recap: Al Snyder’s son, Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder, died in combat in Iraq in 2006. The Westboro Baptist Church protested the funeral because they believe God hates the US and that soldiers’ deaths are the price for our nation’s tolerance of gay rights. Snyder sued and won $10 million from a jury, then lost it all when the U.S. Court of Appeals threw out the verdict. It’s now on its way to the Supreme Court.
Usually, being anti-gay is enough to get all the conservatives on the same side. Of course, this case is different, because it pits anti-gay values against pro-military values, so we see a split. We see the conservatives that we expect to condemn gays standing against Westboro’s actions so they can stand with the troops.
Our first example is actually Bill O’Reilly again. When the appellate overturned the lower court’s verdict, it also said that Snyder was responsible for covering Westboro Baptist’s court costs. Bill O’Reilly stepped in and offered to pay, calling it all an “injustice.” (Glenn Beck is really pushing him left these days.) Would he have done the same if Judy Shepard had sued Westboro Baptist instead of Al Snyder? I doubt it (not all Matthews’ funerals deserve the same respect), but Bill O’Reilly cares enough about supporting military families to stand against an anti-gay group to protect them.
Next up is Ann Coulter. In her column this week, she slams the court for overturning the decision:
Thanks to idiot lawyers, who think it makes them sound smart to say “Black is white” and “Up is down,” one of the biggest problems in society today is the refusal to draw lines. Here’s a nice bright line: Holding malevolent signs outside the funeral of an American serviceman who died defending his country constitutes intentional infliction of emotional distress.
She gets in one little gay joke about why “male homosexuality gets Fred Phelps into such a lather” but otherwise focuses on the wrongness of what the Phelps clan gets away with. As with Bill O’Reilly, her concern, though, is purely about the victims and not about the message. Neither addresses the content or intention behind Westboro Baptists’ protests, choosing to focus merely on protecting the military families targeted by their hurtful messages. This helps them save face. To the blind eye they look like they’re defending gays, but they’re not; they’re defending the troops and their families. If questioned, I’m sure they’d make the distinction.
Now, if you thought it was weird to think Ann Coulter might be on your side, check out this news release from the Ku Klux Klan:
The KKK repudiates the actions of the Westboro Baptist Church. That’s right! A known hate-group (including anti-gay hate) thinks it’s important to set itself apart from and condemn their actions! (We wouldn’t want different kinds of hate getting mixed up, now would we?)
So now it’s my turn to play my part in the whole role reversal drama…
I actually think Westboro Baptist Church should win the case.
Now, I will of course make it clear that I think the WBC is a bunch of delusional whackjobs. Their rhetoric and actions are hateful and indefensible, but their right to protest is fundamental to protect. They get all the necessary permits and make sure law enforcement knows what they’re doing. Regardless of the merit of their message, they protest as lawfully as a group can.
In fact, WBC is like clockwork. There’s never any secret about where they’ll be, what they’ll do, or what they’ll say. The choice is up to the target how to respond. Honestly, I think Al Snyder’s choice to sue was selfish. He didn’t care about the impact WBC has on anybody else or the content of their message, he only cared about his own personal damages. Even if he wins the suit in the Supreme Court, it’s not going to hurt WBC because they have no money anyway. It just promotes the idea that money can undo pain, which is a waste of time and money.
The WBC is like a reliable test group. They’re dependable, and the way that groups have learned to respond to them have been incredibly productive. Some groups ignore them and let them flounder. Some groups piggyback on the publicity to support their cause, like many productions of The Laramie Project do. WBC’s actions have helped bring schools together and unite communities, and groups now have started using WBC protests as opportunities to fundraise against exactly what WBC believes. We know we can automatically dismiss what WBC says so our response must be measured by how we respond and make the most of it.
As disrespectful as it might be, WBC has every right to protest a funeral. It’s bogus and stupid and annoying, but it’s legal. In an absurd kind of way, I’d actually be honored if the Phelps family thought my life’s actions heinous enough to protest my funeral. The Snyder family has my condolences, but not my support in their court case. In the future, I hope they think about all the other people hurt by WBC and not just themselves.