WESTBORO BAPTIST CHURCH PICKETING LOCAL SCHOOLS
By J. Richards
Editor's note: Westboro Baptist Church, headed by Fred Phelps, has gained notoriety for protesting at funerals of gay individuals. In San Diego, however, on October 16 the group (which calls Jews "Christ killers") plans to target Jewish schools and organizations.
October 15, 2009 (San Diego)--The Westboro Baptist Church will be in San Diego County to stage a series of pickets this Friday through Monday, with their "God hates..." pretty-much-everyone-else signs and websites.
They use shock tactics to get media attention, such as picketing military funerals while declaring 9-11 to be God’s punishment and their wish for the death of more soldiers. I might have let their presence pass without anything more than a tsk-tsk, knowing their words speak more loudly against them than anything anyone else could say.
Our children's school, however, is on their picket schedule, so that children from pre-school on will have to pass this group's picketing in order to get to class in the morning.
It has caused our family to stop and ponder, though we don’t claim to have a one-size-fits all answer.
Some local community groups have called for counter protests, but we’d hate to lend credibility or give them the satisfaction. Equally, we feel privileged to live in a country that protects freedom of speech.
With every privilege though, comes responsibility.
We grew up hearing our family’s stories of life in Europe as people fled before the Iron Curtain, and joining the army from a Japanese-American Internment Camp. We lived in Europe when the Wall fell and people flooded westward, for their first taste of freedom in over 50 years.
As parents now, the importance of standing up to hatred and totalitarianism is a lesson we have tried to pass on - because while times may change, people have not.
The capacity for good and bad is part of the human condition, as is the will to choose. Tikkun Olam, healing the world through deeds of loving kindness, is inscribed at the entrance to our school. Knowing that ugliness is a part of the world only makes the experience of lifting oneself up that much more meaningful and rewarding.
So we are not worried for the students at our school; it is a teaching moment. We count our blessings every day that we found a school that reinforces our values, and challenges students to think for themselves and contemplate their place in the world on the path to strength, dignity and adulthood.
In the end we fear more for the children of WBC. While the hatred will pass through our lives in less than an hour of protest, their children are growing up in an environment where hatred seems normal.
Here’s wishing that one day, as adults, they may choose to push past that wall of “otherness,” and discover the beauty that can exist in those moments when we support one another in common community.
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