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The Westboro Baptist Church is Right

Yeah, that’s a headline I never expected to write. But the ACLU has now filed suit on behalf of the Westboro Baptist Church against law enforcement officials in Iowa who have threatened to prosecute them under that state’s flag protection statute — a law that was already struck down by a federal court.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa today filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of three members of the controversial Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas, to defend their freedom of expression and religion.

The case involves law enforcement officials who persist in enforcing Iowa’s unconstitutional flag desecration statutes. Public demonstrations held by Westboro church members often include dragging the U.S. flag on the ground, air spitting on the flag and other expressive acts designed to convey their belief that the U.S. flag has become an idolatrous symbol representing a country that is at odds with God.

Ben Stone, executive director of the ACLU of Iowa, said the ACLU filed the lawsuit because “the strength of our democracy requires tolerance of peaceful forms of public expression and religious activities.” Stone said these principles are paramount, even though the ACLU strongly disagrees with the Westboro Baptist Church positions on such topics as LGBT rights.

The lawsuit contends that various Iowa law enforcement officials wrongly ordered Margie Phelps, Elizabeth Phelps, and Timothy Phelps to stop dragging and otherwise treating the U.S. flag disrespectfully at protests in Des Moines, Red Oak, and Council Bluffs. Church demonstrators “will continue to suffer irreparable harm to their personal rights of expression and religious freedom” as a result of law enforcement’s continuing attempts to enforce Iowa’s unconstitutional flag abuse statutes, the lawsuit contends.

As much as I hate being on the same side as these vile people, this lawsuit is absolutely correct. I expect a quick surrender by the defendants. Every single flag protection law in the country is blatantly unconstitutional.

Comments

  1. yoav says

    But, but… I thought the ACLU is an evil organization that want to force all christians to turn gay or something. I’m sure fix noise and the wingnut daily would be issuing apologies for lying about the ACLU any second now.

  2. says

    Public demonstrations held by Westboro church members often include dragging the U.S. flag on the ground, air spitting on the flag and other expressive acts designed to convey their belief that the U.S. flag has become an idolatrous symbol representing a country that is at odds with God.

    WBC members: “You worship this damn flag! Stop it, and worship God instead!”

    Iowa law enforcement officials: “If you desecrate that flag, we’ll throw you in jail!”

    Sounds like Iowa law enforcement is proving the WBC right. They’re just wrong on the “worship God instead” part.

  3. otrame says

    This is something our European friends often have trouble dealing with, which I can understand. But I remember the first time I saw a Ku Klux Klan billboard in South Carolina: Help FIght Communism and Integration. At first I was shocked. Then I realized it was good. “Hate Speech” should not be a crime if only because who is going to decide what is hate speech? It is far better to let the haters talk. Or to let them demonstrate. And then talk back and counter-demonstrate. In the long run hate looks ugly to anyone who isn’t determined to hate.

    I’ve seen a couple of counter-demonstrations where they turn their backs on the WBC, refusing to even look at them. I like that idea.

  4. a miasma of incandescent plasma says

    Random religious nitwit will say:

    I can still claim the ACLU hates Christians because the WBC aren’t real scotsmen Christians!!1Ones!1!

  5. says

    This is something our European friends often have trouble dealing with

    As a European friend of this blog, I would say “Citation needed”.

  6. Synfandel says

    It is far better to let the haters talk. Or to let them demonstrate. And then talk back and counter-demonstrate.

    This looks fine and dandy in the comments forum of a free thought blog, but when they’re hounding you with psychotic outpourings of insult and hatred at the funeral of your twenty-year-old son who died in the line of duty, you might feel that there should perhaps be some limits.

  7. grumpyoldfart says

    If only there were some lawyers in the Phelps family. They wouldn’t have to rely on outside assistance.

  8. Synfandel says

    Deen, what he means is that some Europeans apparently recognize that there actually is a difference between free expression and being a asshole. I don’t give a rat’s ass about flags, but the WBC seriously harms innocent people with their so-called ‘picketing’ of funerals. There’s a time and a place and a funeral is neither.

  9. dingojack says

    Weirdly, outside the US, a flag is merely a piece of cloth. Go figure!
    Dingo

  10. brucegee1962 says

    Here’s the great Howard Metzenbaum:

    “October 4, 1989, pages S12596-S12597: Government may not forbid the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable. The right to free expression is meaningless if that right only protects expression sanctioned by the majority. The depth of a nation`s commitment to free speech is measured by its willingness to tolerate expression which most its people find repellent. And the strength of a nation`s unity – its sense of shared values – is measured by its capacity to tolerate expression which tries to destroy that unity. Strong nations tolerate dissenting expression. Weak nations suppress it. It is that simple.

    But one of the things that makes this country the greatest and freest in the world, is that we protect free expression even when we hate the message and despise the messenger.

    June 14, 1990, page S7928: I am angry that once again we are going to turn the Bill of Rights into a political football. In 200 years, the Bill of Rights has never, never, been curtailed. This country has gone through a Civil War, two World Wars, and a Great Depression – monumental events which tested our strength and unity. But in those moments, we resisted the temptation to cut back individual freedom. Once you start fiddling with the Bill of Rights to outlaw offensive expression, where do you stop?

    PAGE S7410
    The reason this country is a shining example for the rest of the world is that we protect all political expression, even when it is wrong-headed, offensive, and outrageous. That is not such a complicated idea.

    We do not protect the flag by diminishing the liberties for which it stands. We do not breed respect for the flag by legislating devotion to Old Glory. And we will not strengthen this Nation by weakening the Bill of Rights.”

  11. Drew says

    Please correct me if I’m wrong, but don’t they have to have suffered an actual injury for this?

    Here’s what I mean: Person is stomping on a flag, police comes by and says “you know that’s against the law.” Either person stops (end of story), or person doesn’t stop and police either walk away (end of story) or person gets arrested and sues police for civil rights violation.

    IANAL but I thought that without the arrest the person is not deemed to have suffered an actual injury in a case like this, no?

  12. steve84 says

    Europeans don’t suffer from the idiot American flag fetishism in the first place. It can be an important symbol, but it’s not worshiped and idolized.

    Just look at the so-called “Flag Code”. It’s completely ridiculous.

  13. sinned34 says

    Westboro is apparently planning on picketing recently deceased Slayer guitarist Jeff Hanneman’s funeral.

    That could be fun to watch.

  14. Nick Gotts (formerly KG) says

    This country has gone through a Civil War, two World Wars, and a Great Depression – monumental events which tested our strength and unity. But in those moments, we resisted the temptation to cut back individual freedom. – brucegee1962

    Well, if you don’t count Lincoln suspending habeus corpus, Woodrow Wilson’s Sedition Act, FDR’s mass imprisonment of Japanese Americans…

  15. Nick Gotts (formerly KG) says

    Oh, and wasn’t there some guy called Joseph McCarthy?

  16. says

    brucegee1962:

    Does Metzenbaum have any sociological evidence to back up:

    And the strength of a nation`s unity – its sense of shared values – is measured by its capacity to tolerate expression which tries to destroy that unity. Strong nations tolerate dissenting expression. Weak nations suppress it. It is that simple.

    From what I have seen over the last 20 years, the US has a very high willingness to tolerate expression which tries to destroy its unity – and said unity is very weak. Almost every day Ed posts arguments from wingnuts suggesting that, in fact, strength of unity or shared values basically does not exist in the US. Certainly, I see little reason to believe that the right-wing authoritarians that populate the Republican Party and other US citizens have any shared values unique to the US or that the strength of those shared values exceeds that of polities that Metzenbaum characterizes as ‘weak’.

    In addition, it seems to me that Metzenbaum needs to define what a “strong nation” is in the context of his treatment of expression, and then provide evidence that what he claims is the case.

    But that’s just my impression. I will accede to evidence, should there be any.

    (I should add here that I don’t have any idea who Metzenbaum is, or whether he is alive, so I may be using the wrong tense.)

  17. says

    Drew @ 13

    IANAL but I thought that without the arrest the person is not deemed to have suffered an actual injury in a case like this, no?

    If they can show “an imminent prospect of arrest,” for exercising a constitutionally protected right, that is probably enough.

  18. slc1 says

    Re composer99 @ #18

    Howard Metzenbaum, who is no longer with us, was a senator from Ohio for a number of years. Despite being a very wealthy man himself, Metzenbaum was a strong liberal. I would also point out that he uttered those words in 1989, some 24 years ago. Things were a little different then.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Howard_Metzenbaum

  19. John Horstman says

    @16: Concentration (“quarantine”) camps for prostitutes and suspected prostitutes, chattel slavery, no-consent sterilization of racial minorities, no-consent medical experimentation on Black people, widespread genital mutilation of infants and children (of any gender) as a treatment for Onanism (continued as normative through the 80s at least for assigned-male infants), genocide against indigenous populations, denying women bodily (and especially reproductive) autonomy, no-consent genital surgeries performed on intersexed infants, coverture marriage, Jim Crow laws, imprisoning gay people under sex crimes statutes; that’s it for the off-the-top-of-my-head stuff done within our own borders, but there’s plenty more. Somehow a lot of it is left out of the standard primary school American History curriculum.

  20. Nick Gotts (formerly KG) says

    John Horstman,
    @16, I was looking specifically for examples that were direct responses to the “monumental events which tested our strength and unity”. Metzenbaum (of whom I had not heard before) appears to have been remarkably full of shit.

  21. says

    Any chance that the ACLU has a special “ALL teh Gay” phalanx of attorneys?

    “Metzenbaum (of whom I had not heard before) appears to have been remarkably full of shit.”

    As were Churchill, Chambelain, Thatcher,Brown, Blair; Adenauer,Brandt; DeGaulle, Mitterand, Sarkozy, etc.,.

    Howard Metzenbaum was a decent congress critter (I never much cared for the guy) especially when compared to the current crop of ReiKKKwing fuckheads that pollute the Congress.

  22. postman says

    Truth and politicians have a rather rocky relationship, after all.

    Also, can everyone stop talking like Europe is some kind of homogeneous group of countries? For example, I live in a European country where burning a flag is against the law. I don’t know what the law says in other countries.

  23. thumper1990 says

    On the strength of steve84’s comment at #14, I went and looked up the US flag code… and it is, genuinely, fucking ridiculous. Most of it is common sense, and what isn’t common sense is obnoxiously pedantic. Seriously, that is pathetic.

    One thing jumped out though: “The flag may not be used for any advertising purposes; no advertising may be attached to a pole flying a flag.”

    I’m sure I saw an NRA ad showing the flag once.

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