Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Westboro Baptist Protests Fallen Soldiers Funeral But Are Drowned Out By Patriotic Protectors

Bikers revved their engines. Thousands of protesters waved American flags.

On one side of the street, the signs read: “Nashville: No place for hate” and “God loves Sgt. Kevin Balduf.”

On the other side, they read: “Thank God for dead soldiers” and “God is your enemy.”

But beyond all that, inside the protective walls of a quiet church, lay a young man in Marine dress blues.

On May 12, Nashville native and Marine Sgt. Kevin Balduf, 27, was killed in combat in Afghanistan. Much closer to his home, Christian fundamentalists in Topeka, Kansas, planned their trip to protest his funeral.

News of Westboro Baptist Church’s plans lit up social media sites, resulting in a counter-protest of about 2,000 people Monday outside Woodmont Hills Family of God church on Franklin Pike. In less than 10 minutes, two hours before the funeral’s start, the three Westboro protesters took their leave.

Earlier Monday, the three protested outside Gordon Jewish Community Center in Bellevue and the Islamic Center of Nashville on 12th Avenue South. During their short protest of the Islamic center, someone slashed the tires on their rented SUV. Metro Police took a report, but no one has been charged.

Since a March Supreme Court ruling in favor of Westboro Baptist, counter-protesters have stepped up their efforts to shout the group down at soldiers’ funerals. America must allow “even hurtful speech on public issues to ensure that we do not stifle public debate,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in his opinion for the court.

All but one justice sided with the church, which has stirred outrage with raucous demonstrations contending that God is punishing the military for the nation’s tolerance of homosexuality. The church was started in 1955 and regularly protests the funerals of soldiers nationwide.

The Topeka church didn’t respond to calls and emails requesting comment Monday, and the protesters left the funeral area without speaking to media.

Six hours before the afternoon funeral service, people filled the expansive church lawn and lined Franklin Pike to the Thompson Lane intersection.

The majority came by motorcycle. Others parked at the fairgrounds and nearby parking lots, shuttled to the church lawn by Rural/Metro Ambulances, a service donated by the private company. Others arrived on donated party buses.

Their mission was for Balduf’s family and friends coming to mourn to see only American flags, only patriotism, only a showing of gratitude for Balduf’s sacrifice.

“The counter-protest is a great example of freedom at work and America at its best,” said Charles Haynes, a senior scholar at Nashville’s First Amendment Center. “Instead of shutting them down or censoring them using the government, we have people who are willing to stand up and drown them out.

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