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You’ve Got to be Carefully Taught

Westboro ProtestAs submitted to the Huffington Post

By Jerry Waxman


The Arts have always been ahead of the curve when it comes to social awareness. As far back as the sixteenth century William Shakespeare took on social injustice in many of his plays, including Romeo and Juliet, in which he chastised the church for always screwing things up, as well as parents using daughters for property and profit. In the modern era novelists such as Edna Ferber and Fanny Hurst explored race issues including miscegenation, which was a capital crime in many states until the twentieth century. Jazz artists Fats Waller and Andy Razaff penned the lament Black and Blue-made famous by Waller, Louis Armstrong and Bix Beiderbecke. In 1939 Billie Holliday recorded the remarkable Strange Fruit, a dirge about a lynching in the South which she had witnessed as a teenager  On the stage Oscar Hammerstein wrote lyrics that dealt with these issues in Showboat (a novel written by Ferber) and South Pacific (Based on James Michener’s novel). In the story Joe Cable, a marine officer from the Philadelphia Main Line falls in love with an island girl, Liat. Cable knows that his proper society folks would never accept Liat and he reluctantly refuses to marry her. “You’ve Got to be Taught” is his lament about his predicament. The third stanza of the song sums it all up:

“You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late,
Before you are six or seven or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate,
You’ve got to be carefully taught!”

So far all of these details are about white-nonwhite issues. Those issues still exist; however, race is only one of several hate issues. Under the guise of being a church, The Westboro Baptist Church, founded by Fred Phelps, travels around the country protesting gays and lesbians, other organized religions and, in general, any individuals or groups that don’t think and act exactly like them. Here’s the Wikipedia link to them and it’s rather extensive.

Yesterday, they came to Orlando. Their website’s daily schedule showed that they were going to picket the Jewish Community Center in Maitland in the morning, a high school in the area in the early afternoon and the Hillel group at the University of Central Florida. A local activist, Anthony Fulginity, along with two of his associates, Josh Knight and Valeria Serna, got the word out through networks of email and Facebook and organized a counter protest for the 3:30 event at UCF. Ninety people replied and about sixty actually showed up with hastily made signs of opposition. Here’s a link to the invite page and it worked very effectively. Westboro had all of three people protesting, two of them underage children bearing hate signs. Here’s the video. The first part shows the picketers and the big noise is made by the counter group. This lasted about less than ten minutes and the Westboro people beat a hasty retreat, not allowing interviews or allowing themselves to be photographed from the front. This next video shows the counter group using Westboro’s tactics against them and this third video features the organizers being interviewed. As of this writing, no one from the JCC has returned calls, so the extent of that protest is as yet unknown.

Several members of the Phelps family are lawyers and they stretch the limits of free speech to outrageous boundaries, using young children as a protective shield whenever possible. This is an unconscionable act-using small, easily influenced and indoctrinated children to promote your agenda and they have been successfully prosecuted in the past for their activities. The following is a direct quote from Wikipedia:

“The pickets have resulted in several lawsuits. In 1995 Phelps Sr.’s eldest grandson, Benjamin Phelps, was convicted of assault and disorderly conduct after spitting into the face of a passerby during a picket.[10] In the 1990s the church won a series of lawsuits against the City of Topeka and Shawnee County for efforts taken to prevent or hinder WBC picketing, and was awarded approximately $200,000 in attorney’s fees and costs associated with the litigation. In 2004, Margie Phelps and her son Jacob were arrested for trespassing, disorderly conduct and failure to obey after disregarding a police officer’s order during an attempted protest.[11] In response to pickets at funerals Kansas passed a law prohibiting picketing at such events. In the autumn of 2007 the father of a Marine whose funeral was picketed by the WBC was awarded $5 million in damages.[12][13] In June 2007 Shirley Phelps-Roper was arrested in Nebraska and charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor. The arrest resulted from her allowing her eight-year-old son to step on the American flag during the demonstration, an act which is illegal under Nebraska law. The defense contends that the child’s actions were protected speech, and that the state law is unconstitutional. The prosecution claims that the demonstration was not intended as political speech, but as an incitement to violence, and that Phelps-Roper’s conduct may also constitute child abuse.[14] All the principals of the Phelps Chartered law firm,[15] a firm founded by WBC founder Fred Phelps, are members of WBC. Phelps Chartered handles most of WBC’s legal work.[16]

This kind of hate is generational and people like the Phelps family pass it on from parent to child to grandchild, etc…etc…etc. They can be successfully outgunned as yesterday’s counter protest showed. They can also be easily defeated in debates. A while back an old friend debated Shirley Phelps-Roper on an internet radio show and she hung up on him due to a challenging question he posed to her. Here’s the e-mail he just sent me:


I’d have to call to find out, but I know that it was an internet station out of New Jersey.

She hung up when I asked her if she was a Christian or a Calvinist…as she and her church believe that they are predestined for heaven…and the rest of us are just going to hell. I asked why any of us should bother…and why it was so important for her church to bully and picket when her family was so obviously the “chosen people” of the world…and it apparently doesn’t matter what the rest of us do.

…click…dial tone.

That’s my story…I’ll try to find out the name of the show I was on.”

In addition to being bullies The Westboro Baptist Church members show themselves to be extreme cowards when faced with willful opposition. Heroes like the counter protest organizers and my friend the phone debater prove everyday that exposing these groups for what they are lessens their impact, and that’s important when you’ve got to be carefully taught.


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