While millions of Americans last week were clogging roadways, parking lots, and drive-thru's in a show of solidarity for Chick-fil-A's highly publicized anti-gay marriage stance, another tidbit of notable news managed to get shunted aside.
In a bipartisan vote, Congress passed "The Honoring America’s Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act of 2012," which President Obama has vowed to sign into law. The innocuously titled bill, however, would appear to run counter to the notion of free speech that Chick-fil-A supporters purported to uphold with their presence and their record-breaking business on Aug. 1 as part of Chick-fil-A "Appreciation Day."
The new law would prohibit protesters from picketing military funerals two hours before or after a service. It also would require protestors to be at least 300 feet away from grieving family members.
The measure is targeted at the widely loathed Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan. with such signs as, "God Hates Fags," and "Thank God for dead soldiers," saying the deaths are Jehovah's Old Testament-style punishment for "the sin of homosexuality."
The church's funeral pickets, or mere threats to picket, routinely draw outraged citizens of various religious and political persuasions who form human barriers and counter-protests, as was the case
"Protests that encroach upon the funerals and burials of our fallen soldiers are repugnant and inappropriate — and they undermine the respect military families and loved ones undeniably deserve," said a statement by retiring Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, who sponsored the bill's provisions.
So-called "hate speech" can be in-your-face, as is the case with Westboro's vile antics, or it can be veiled, as arguably was the case at this past week's appreciation day, called for by former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee after the firestorm created when the fast-food chain's CEO publicly stated his, his family's, and his company's antipathy towards gay marriage.
While many would argue that equating Westboro with Chick-fil-A is foolish, Christian blogger, Matthew Paul Turner, in a powerful post that went viral the day after the CFA appreciation day, nonetheless argued that the event was a sad day for American Christians, doing nothing to disprove the notion that Christians hate gays and lesbians.
"Christians all over America ignored the second greatest commandment: to love our neighbors. Call yesterday what you want, freedom of speech, a rally behind 'family values,' a sincere fascination with CFA’s brand of fried poultry… but it cannot be called love. It was not love," Turner wrote.
"People felt hate and we ignored that. At the end of the day, regardless of whether or not your Christian understanding of scripture harbors hate or not, a large group of people felt hated," Turner added. "By rallying behind CFA, Christians put an issue above people. And it’s impossible to follow Jesus when issues trump people."
For those who would argue otherwise, it doesn't help matters that Phelps and other key members of Westboro took to Twitter to trumpet and stand behind CFA. (Then again, so did the American Civil Liberties Union).
Bottom line: Even though many of CFA's supporters contended that their actions were driven as much by staunch free speech concerns as any anti-gay sentiment, it begs the question: Despite it's harsh tactics and over-the-top rhetoric, doesn't Westboro deserve the same free-speech protection and support given Chick-fil-A?
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