I never thought it would happen, but lo and behold Fred Phelps’ cult is to be judged by the U.S. Supreme Court.

I never thought it would happen, but lo and behold Fred Phelps’ cult is to be judged by the U.S. Supreme Court. These evil people cruelly cast contempt upon our American heroes, viciously insulting their grieving families, and desecrating our honored national symbols. They are an evil blight upon our society. Hopefully the courts will rule against them and award a large financial judgment to those grieving families purposefully injured by the Phelps.
Yet as cruel as are the Phelpses when spewing verbal vilification on the tragic dead, they are even more vicious when attacking the innocent living. Should not this type of verbal violence, regularly vented upon the innocent, also be outlawed by the Courts? Is not the protection of the living equally as important as our honoring the dead?
I know the Phelpses from personal experience. Every day for three years, Sundays, every holy days, and at every worship service, I faced the fury of the Phelpses’ verbal and visual onslaught on the sidewalks around my church, St. David’s Episcopal Church, Topeka, Kansas. As the Rector of the parish, I daily witnessed Phelps and his minion shout insults at our worshippers, display obscene signs filled with lies and threats, constantly attempting to pollute our worship of the Lord Jesus. They spewed their venom on St. David’s because we openly and warmly welcomed into our spiritual family all of God’s children. A person’s sexual orientation was not the measure of their blessedness. We repeatedly affirmed the Lord’s universal love for all, including those whom the Phelpses so ruthlessly condemned. Because of our inclusiveness, the Phelpses’ contempt was aimed at St. David’s.
Finally, after the final 18 months of face-to-face confrontation, St. David’s won a District Court injunction against the Phelpses’ cult, banning their harassment from within 30-minute parameters of our worship. When the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear their repeated appeals, St. David’s won its freedom to worship without harassment.
The Court ruled against the Phelpses. St. David’s and decency won a great victory.
St. David’s set the precedent. The vilifying verbal violence of the Phelpses is not freedom of speech. It is not the protected proclamation of a point of view. It is cruel assault on the innocent! They seek to hide this villainy behind an appeal to the U.S. Constitution. I too value the freedoms guaranteed by our foundational document, but I reject that it protects such verbal violence as the Phelpses regularly inflict upon innocent persons. Their words are weapons designed to wound others. During our standoff, we repeatedly heard them boasting that their aim was to “punish” and “wound” those whom they deemed “unclean” or “unworthy.” They celebrated as pleasure inflicting suffering on others. Such twisted pleasure is vile! It comes at the expense of the honored dead and of the innocent living. May the Court rule against the Phelpses and protect the living as well as the dead.
In fervent hopes…
Fr. Bob Layne (Episcopal Priest –retired)