Alex Blaze

Another loss for the values the flag is meant to represent

Filed By Alex Blaze | December 10, 2009 2:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics
Tags: ACLU, Fred Phelps, free speech, homophobic behavior, retribution, shirley phelps-roper, Westboro Baptist Church

For shame:

The Nebraska Supreme Court has dismissed Shirley Phelps-Roper's latest appeal in a case involving a Nebraska flag-desecration law, but her attorney said the legal battle isn't over.

Phelps-Roper was arrested in 2007 for letting her then-10-year-old son stand on an American flag at the funeral of a National Guardsman in Bellevue, authorities said. They also said she wore a flag as a skirt that dragged on the ground.

Nebraska law bars intentionally "casting contempt or ridicule" upon an American flag by mutilating, defacing, defiling, burning or trampling it. Violating the law carries a misdemeanor charge.

You don't have to agree with the WBC to see that they have a right to wear the flag as an upside-down skirt that drags on the ground. It's a piece of cloth; no one will be hurt because Shirley wore it as a skirt instead of as a swimsuit. If anything, it makes her easier for most people to dismiss.

It's part of a trend I've blogged about before of local and state governments going after the WBC not because the church is homophobic, but because they take their homophobia to its absolutely logical conclusion: if gays are evil, then the country that tolerates them is also bad. Most rightwingers are too busy draping themselves in the American flag (in culturally-acceptable ways) to even notice that, if they really think "teh culture" is so awful, that the Constitution is a quaint document that gets in the way of God's law, and that America's diversity in all its forms is a weakness instead of a strength, then that means that America itself is bad.

For all the right's bluster over the "blame America crowd," they blame America non-stop. At least the Phelps clan is honest enough to just say it. And it's for that that they're being punished.

As the Associated Baptist Press put it:

The group operated in relative obscurity when it targeted mainly funerals of homosexuals, including the 1998 funeral of Matthew Shepard, a student at the University of Wyoming widely viewed as the victim of an anti-gay hate crime.

Public awareness increased after the church in 2005 decided to broaden its protests to military funerals, touting the deaths of U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan as divine retribution for American's toleration of homosexuality.

Outrage over the military protests prompted several states to pass laws limiting demonstrations within viewing distance of funerals.

In 2007 a Maryland jury awarded the father of a dead Marine $10 million in compensatory and punitive damages after the church picketed his son's funeral. A federal court recently threw out the verdict, finding that inflammatory signs carried by protesters including "Thank God for Dead Soldiers" while "distasteful and repugnant," were protected as free speech by the First Amendment.

You know what that means? All mainstream criticism of the WBC has little to do with the fact that the church is disgusting enough to protest AIDS victims funerals, and more to do with the mainstream's own obsession with knee-jerk patriotism. Who cares about the queers, they're not Real Americans. But the troops? Let's pass laws to throw peaceful protesters in jail.

Freedom of speech even applies to unpopular speech, but we also shouldn't forget that the reason the WBC's speech is unpopular has little to do with us. It has everything to do with other people's fragile egos.


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Desecration of the flag is to me offensive. To do so over the grave of a US soldier is a pretty despicable thing to do. However, desecration of the Constitution is not only offensive it is intolerable. Freedom of expression is pointless if it only applies to sentiments in favor at any given time.