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A hate group is defined as an organized group or movement that advocates and practices hatred, hostility, or violence towards members of a race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation or other designated sector of society. A petition has been circulating the internet to classify the Westboro Baptist Church as a hate group. The Westboro Baptists made themselves famous with their radically anti-gay "God Hates Fags" message and by picketing the funerals of fallen soldiers which inspired the Respect for America's Fallen Heros Act. The church has already been sued for defamation by the family of  Marine Lance Corporal Matthew A. Snyder, whose funeral they picketed back in 2006. Ultimately, the court decided their speech was protected under the First Amendment.

The 250k signature petition, the largest online White House petition of all time, comes in the wake an announcement by Shirley Phelps-Roper, the church's spokesperson, that members would picket the funerals of the victims of the Sandy Hook shooting that killed 20 children. Anger toward the Westboro Baptists has reached new heights after this promise, and the hacktivist group known as Anonymous has declared "war" on them. The Petitioners argue that the group is not a church because not only is their message detestable, but the members are comprised almost entirely if not entirely of the family of founder, Fred Phelps. Many hope that classification as a hate group will also lead to the WBC losing their tax exempt status shared by all incorporated religions under the 501(c)(3) provision. The only way the latter can occur is if the church directly advocates for a political agenda. But do the Westboro Baptists meet the requirements for this classification and should they lose their exemption?

The WBC is not the first church to call homosexuality a sin. They are not the first to blame homosexuality for catastrophic events. Jerry Falwell famously blamed "the gays" for 9/11 while on the 700 Club with Pat Robertson. They are not even the first church to indirectly advocate for a political agenda. What sets the Westboro Baptists apart is their celebration of violence. Indeed it is fair to say they revel in it. However, are they a hate group in the same way the KKK is a hate group? Not necessarily. The members do not call for violence against homosexuals, nor do they commit acts of violence. Their position that homosexuality is evil is no different from those who claim "sanctity of marriage" is threatened by gay marriage, though their methods are more disagreeable. What's more they do not directly advocate for a political agenda.

This is precisely why we have our First Amendment: to protect unpopular speech. Free speech is not absolute but the court has already ruled that the WBC's speech is protected. While Americans do not like that a group would celebrate violence towards children, they are constitutionally bound to accept it. Once we begin labeling churches we disagree with as "hate groups" and start taking away their tax exempt status where does it end?

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (6+ / 0-)

    Walker Bragman BA Government from Skidmore College Political Cartoonist/Blogger

    by WalkerBragman on Wed Dec 26, 2012 at 07:34:52 PM PST

  •  It would be much simpler... (12+ / 0-)

    if religious institutions no longer qualified for automatic tax-exempt status.

  •  WBC is both a hate group... (10+ / 0-)

    ...and deserves the right to free speech.

  •  The Core Constitution Empowers Taxation. (7+ / 0-)

    No amendment recognizes a freedom from taxation.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Wed Dec 26, 2012 at 07:54:25 PM PST

  •  Their actions are meant to provoke (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Dogs are fuzzy

    people into violating their civil rights so they can keep their operation funded by way of law suits.

    They're scam artists who need to be put out of business, plain and simple.

    Do it the "fighting words" way. Will that work?

    Somebody has to do something, and it's just incredibly pathetic that it has to be us.
    ~ Jerry Garcia

    by DeadHead on Wed Dec 26, 2012 at 08:04:49 PM PST

  •  To answer your question... (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    winsock, Chaddiwicker, VClib, skrekk
    Once we begin labeling people whose speech we disagree with as "hate groups" and taking away their tax exempt status, where does it end?
    People labeling other people whose speech they disagree with as "hate groups" is nothing more than 1st Amendment expression, and should be of no concern.  As for their tax exempt status, it should not, and I'm pretty certain it will not, be revoked because of the content of their speech.  It may be revoked because they fail to satisfy the conditions laid out in section 501(c)(3) of the tax code and, if that is the case, it also should be of no concern.
    •  What has always confused the shit out of me with (0+ / 0-)

      this particular group:

      1. They get more press coverage than other groups that are not picketing funerals.

      2. The WBC disrupts the religious and rite of passage services of other Americans in a way that is cruel, and unnecessary--and somehow when people object--the objectors are enemies of the first amendment and not the people who use it as an excuse to invade private, intimate, painful ceremonies involving the deaths of loved ones and their funerary services.

      3.The WBC repeatedly shows up at the doorstep of churches and synagogues, protesting also, the acceptance of homosexuals in those places, once again under the believe that their hate speech trumps local community values, and the practice of acceptance and tolerance.

      4. The WBC consistently uses the deaths of loved ones as something to capitalize on, as a means to spread their message, even showing up or attempting to show up in Connecticut for the burial of children.

      Does this "Speech" that they are making serve a good purpose or any utilitarian purpose at all? Is it edifying? How does it involve the use of a deity or scripture other than to promote their one and only message, which I shall not repeat here.

      Allowing them to exist and have members without being harassed is proof enough that we respect their freedoms, but what I don't understand is why we put up with their bullshit which includes but is not limited to harassing other citizens with asinine messages that carry nothing but hate, and pain, and bitterness with the sole intent of inflicting upon people during a time of grief, when many themselves are in the midst of their own religious rituals.

      It seems to me we allow them too much freedom because they use it to trample the freedom of others. We also have the freedom from religion. They should keep their "freedom" in their church and leave others be.

      It isn't as if their protests are going to have any affect on legislation. They aren't even protesting legislators who write the laws. They are targeting citizens, punishing them for laws that the church cannot change because they are a tiny sliver of a minority with no intent of doing that. This entire thing is nothing but a scam and a publicity stunt and I am tired of equating it with some banned book or act of civil rights.

  •  They aren't mutually exclusive (4+ / 0-)

    Hate and Free Speech.

    Churches should pay taxes like everyone else.

    "I watch Fox News for my comedy, and Comedy Central for my news." - Facebook Group

    by Sychotic1 on Wed Dec 26, 2012 at 08:28:20 PM PST

  •  Slippery slope argument, really? (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    cacamp, winsock

    Then the dominos will start to fall, one by one.

    Part of the "right to free speech" is the right to reply to speech, to disagree with it and call it hate if one thinks that is appropriate.

  •  You have some glaring holes. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    VClib, Chaddiwicker, lostboyjim

    You say that once a group is designated a hate group, it automatically loses its church tax exemption.  Yet you offer no citation to this amazing claim.  Who makes this designation?  What part of the tax code contains this provision?

    The electoral college was my safety school.

    by Fiddler On A Hot Tin Roof on Wed Dec 26, 2012 at 09:54:55 PM PST

  •  If you don't allow their hate speech..... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    WalkerBragman, GreenMother

    how do you know which ones want to round people up and send them off to concentration camps?

    The crime of 'Mein Kampf' was not that it was published; it's that not enough people read what the lunatic author wanted to do and stopped him.

    •  Most people can only take so much of teh crazy. (0+ / 0-)

      Over the years as this religious supremacism has gotten worse and worse, one tries to warn people, but most do not believe how bad it is, and refuse to take the time to check for themselves.

      They cannot imagine someone so imbalanced can access the reigns of power, that some "natural" force in society will prevent that, and sadly that simply isn't true. With enough charisma and denial, anything is possible.

  •  We've got hate speech laws here (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    in Belgium. They are concentrated on severe and public holocaust-denial, misogyny, homophobia and racism. Not that anyone could land in jail for it, but these are offenses that can be sued. It's highly likely that Todd Akin would've gotten several lawsuits here.

    And yet none of us (besides said extremists) feel it infringes upon our free speech. It's seen as a matter of decency - and although I agree it might be difficult to maintain, I think any nation would benefit from a serious reminder that your free speech is not absolute and does not trump everything else (especially not other citizens' wellbeing).

    •  I understand that the Netherlands has (0+ / 0-)

      reworked their immigration laws so that it's harder to immigrate there if one is unwilling to abide by the laws of their land. That if you cannot handle seeing gay couples or deal with a female boss, or that someone might be an Atheist or at least not go to *your church, that they can refuse you immigrant status and eventually deport a person applying for that status.

  •  Nuanced Look-- (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    First I agree with the premise of the author.

    I have made similar complaints against groups over the years, only to be silenced because some felt it was too strong to call them Hate Groups or Supremacist Groups.

    I still strongly disagree.

    It's one thing to frown upon certain behaviors, ways of being, etc.,

    But it's another to harass other citizens over these differences or try and effect laws that penalize these citizens for what basically amounts to their failure to comply with some [any] person's religious requirements.

    So it's not that WBC doesn't care for Gay People, it's that they harass other citizens over this matter.

    It's not that the Falwells, and Robertsons, and others don't care for Gay People [as a singular example], but it is that they attempt to use their churches as networking sites for political activism that would penalize homosexuals for being visible.

    Same thing with other religious minorities, women, and at times people of color.

    When they organize their entire purpose in society, to target minorities and perceived religious rivals, for legislative harassment and persecution, then they have stepped over the line and should lose their tax exempt status and be forever classified as a PAC and not a church.

    •  As far as I can see, you have described the (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      Knights of Columbus wit this:

      But it's another to harass other citizens over these differences or try and effect laws that penalize these citizens for what basically amounts to their failure to comply with some [any] person's religious requirements.
      In fact, looking at Prop H8 & similar campaigns, several major churches fit this description.

      That, in its essence, is fascism--ownership of government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private power. -- Franklin D. Roosevelt --

      by enhydra lutris on Thu Dec 27, 2012 at 07:48:21 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Yes --In fact I would say more than several (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        "churches" fit this description.

        The reason that the First Amendment, as it refers to religious freedom, works in this country, is by honoring the fact that it's okay to have likes, dislikes, preferences, or even prejudices, but that it's not okay to act on them. When a group does that, then they are attempting to hold liberty as a hostage, until the targeted group conforms with a desired moral code or religious belief.

        When that happens then they are trampling the rights of others and undermining the very freedom that allows them to exist without fear of harassment or retribution themselves.

        That's the ironic part there.

        At some point any religious or ideological or ethnic group could find themselves as a numerical minority, and suddenly the rights they denied to others as a dominant force, are denied for them, when the tables are turned.

        So a long sighted group would maintain this freedom for all, in the hopes that these freedoms will be preserved for themselves and their members whether they number in the millions or in the hundreds.

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