Westboro Baptist Church to picket Sandy Hook funerals: 4 ways to respond

Astrid Riecken for The Washington Post Wally Dawall of Gaithersburg, Md., right, and Ray Schlegel of College Park, Md., pay … Continued

Astrid Riecken for The Washington Post

Wally Dawall of Gaithersburg, Md., right, and Ray Schlegel of College Park, Md., pay respect to Navy Lt. Brendan J. Looney near the main entrance of Arlington National Cemetery while members of Westboro Baptist Church protest the funeral in the background.

Westboro Baptist Church, the tiny independent fundamentalist Christian church based in Topeka, Kan., announced on Twitter that, once again, they are planning to stomp over our nation’s heartache by protesting at the funerals of the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting and declaring “God sent the shooter.”

How do you solve a problem like Westboro Baptist Church? Here are a few options.

1. Counter-protest.

Westboro’s funeral protests are frequently met with inspired counter-protests that often result in a greater public support for the deceased’s families than they may have gotten had Westboro never gotten involved. One group, the Patriot Guard Riders, has organized motorcycle rides since 2005 to show of support for military families and to shield them from Westboro’s protests. In another recent example, hundreds of Texas A&M students formed a human chain last summer around the spot where Westboro was expected to protest the funeral of a soldier. According to media reports, church members never showed. In the case of Sandy Hook, one Reddit thread is attempting to organize against Westboro “by forming a silent blockade during the funeral processions.”

2. Engage — and try to explain to them that they’re wrong.

After Westboro protests, photos often emerge of other Christians trying to explain why they believe Westboro is wrong in its interpretation of the Bible and what it means to live according to Jesus’s teachings. Westboro claims that what others interpret as hate are acts of Christian love. “From a Bible standard, we love you,” one church member told the audience during an interview with Russell Brand.

The vast majority of American Christians disagree with their interpretation of Scripture. After Westboro threatened to protest Crosspoint Community Church in Tennessee, the church’s pastor, Pete Wilson, posted a video to their church’s Web site rejecting the group’s claims that they speak for Christ.

Russell Brand also tried his hand at theological debate with Westboro during the exchange with two church members on his television show. From The Friendly Atheist:

3. Shut them down.

Snyder v. Phelps
, decided by the Supreme Court in March 2011, the father of 20-year-old Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder, who had been killed in Iraq, filed a lawsuit seeking damages, saying the group had turned his son’s 2006 funeral into a “circus,” according to Post reporting. The court sided with Westboro:

One current petition of the White House has more than 150,000 signatures, and asks the government to “legally recognize Westboro Baptist Church as a hate group.”

The White House petition reads:

Given the Supreme Court’s decision, further restrictions on Westboro seem unlikely, though local governments continue to use regulations to keep groups such as Westboro off of private property.

4. Ignore them.

Over the years, many have responded to Westboro’s protest plans with pleas for the public to ignore the group. Lady Gaga, whose July 2010 concert in St. Louis was picketed, called on her fans to “not respond to any of their provocation,” adding “don’t waste your words, or feelings, no matter what you hear or see. You are more fortunate and blessed than they are, and in your heart just pray for them.” Mary Winters’s 2011 case for ignoring Westboro noted that by paying attention to them, the church is getting what they want: publicity. Or, as Paul Waldman at the American Prospect put it in 2011, “We can’t put them in jail, but we can deprive them of the attention they crave.”

Related content on On Faith:

* Thistlethwaite: Obama gives voice to the new national determination on gun control

* National Cathedral dean: ‘… the gun lobby is no match for the cross lobby’

* Graham: Why the shock and awe?

* Huckabee: Sandy Hook shooting not surprising after God ‘removed from our schools’

* Wintz: Quit using ‘loss’ when referring to death

* Pace: Comfort the grieving

* Stanley: In tragedy we grieve; in God, we hope

* Quinn: Where was God?

* Kaur: Journey from Oak Creek to Newtown

* Hirschfield: In wake of Newtown massacre, love more important than explanations

* Thistlethwaite:God weeps: 27 children, staff killed in Conn. school shooting

* Md. pastors were searching for solutions even before mass shooting

* Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting shocks a nation


Elizabeth Tenety Elizabeth Tenety is the former editor of On Faith, where she produced "Divine Impulses," On Faith’s video interview series. She studied Theology and Government at Georgetown University and received her master’s degree from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. A New York native, Elizabeth grew up in the home of Catholic news junkies where, somewhere in between watching the nightly news and participating in parish life, she learned to ponder both the superficial and the sacred.
  • curwood

    face off between the 1st and 2nd Amendment rights people .. betting those with semi-automatic rifles and the right to carry them loaded would win,

  • GoWest2

    I believe most if not all of the victims of the massacre have been buried. Any reports of what happened at the funerals?

  • boblesch

    5 – put those AR-15′s to good use.

  • Bill1776

    We have a culture problem not a gun problem, by the time children or ten they have seen over a hundred crimes and murders with guns on TV. Some parents use TV as a baby sitter. The ACLU and our federal dictators in black robes have taken God given morals out of our schools. Hollywood and the ACLU are making the people rotten to the core so when all h e l l brakes loose don’t be surprised.

    In Switzerland people are required to own guns including machine guns and keep them in their home. The crime rate in Switzerland is so low they don’t keep a record of it.

    In Australia the citizens were required to turn in their guns. Thousands were turned in and destroyed that cost the tax payers millions. The crime rate went up, only the law abiding citizens turned theirs in.

  • mqpham

    Yes, and a drunk has a cultrural problem, not an alcohol problem.

  • mqpham

    The pen might be mightier than the sword, but not the semis.

  • mqpham

    We can shut them down by bankrupting them with lawsuits.

  • contrarhythmic

    Why not use fire hoses?

  • codexjust1

    5th: Withdraw all police protection and let nature take its course.

  • diverkenster

    Introduce them to the dangers of assault weapons.

  • geewizpeeps54

    Somehow I seriously doubt that Jesus and God are in any way proud of this alleged ‘christian church’. Talk about Twisting The Bible!

  • Republicanism Wrecked the Country !!!

    More Republicasn acolytes !..

    Start a Draft and let them finish the wars they started..

    Should end REAL QUICK !!

  • Republicanism Wrecked the Country !!!

    travel4fun…you need to repost many times..

    I am in Martial / Combat Arts..40 years..
    Most people are not trained on firearms.

    Anyone can shoot them .. few are ever trained.

    Mrs Lanza forgot the first lesson…

    Situaltional Awareness and paid the price for stupidity.

    Then the Public Paid for it again horribly.

    AND the NRA Shills are out Defending Lanza !!

  • naksuthin

    The Westboro Church is not alone
    The tragedy at Sandy Hook is terrible.
    But I can’t believe that a few Christian leaders are using it to exploit and prevert the teachings of Christ

    Dr. James Dobson commented while speaking to listeners of his Dr. James Dobson’s Family Talk program: I think we have turned our back on the scripture and on God almighty and I think he has allowed [this Newtown massacre] judgment to fall upon us. I think that’s what’s going on.”

    Bryan Fischer of the American family Association said the victims at Sandy Hook had lost God’s protection because prayer has been prohibited from schools.

  • naksuthin

    Dr. James Dobson commented while speaking to listeners of his Dr. James Dobson’s Family Talk program: “I think we have turned our back on the scripture and on God almighty and I think he has allowed [this Newtown massacre] judgment to fall upon us. I think that’s what’s going on.”

    Bryan Fischer of the American family Association said the victims at Sandy Hook had lost God’s protection because prayer has been prohibited from schools.

  • ” turbo”64

    God is not a God of hate, how dumb are you people. God has loved us before we were ever born and loves us forever. Quit talking of God as a hater, the hater is satan not God, westborobabtistchurch your god has got to be satan because the real God does not condone hate. He loves everyone,he is not predijuce, he loves homos Jews ,blacks Mexicans, people of every color, race ,sexual preference. God has prepared a place for all of us if we just except him in our heart. I can’t understand how people think, if you think God is of hate then you are against the real God. Please give these poor people who have lost their loved ones a break and leave them alone. How would you like it if someone disrespected your loved ones during their funeral, of course your loved ones probably only have about 40 people who love them, and that’s the people in your satan cult. God is bigger than all of this, God even loves the demons of westborobabtistchurch

  • nosuchluck

    There is a fifth way to deal with them…….. BeatTELFOOThem

  • rightlyso

    The First Amendment protects the stupid, the insane and the rest of us from government abridging the freedom of speech, the press, or the right of people to peacefully assemble. The Chief Justice, using his freedom of speech doesn’t understand that speech cannot be used to interfere with public assembly.
    If he had any legal training he might understand that the inalienable rights of all the people take precedence in the interpretation of law. Legal assembly is protected from interference by government or private groups.

  • dannil

    God is the Alpha and the Omega. Nothing exists without God. Satan exists because God allows it. Bad things happen because God allows it.

  • lilmax1955

    Are we forgetting that God didn’t “let” nor “cause” this evil at Sandy Hook. The cause is simply the work of Satan. In the very first book of the Bible, Genesis,
    says that God saw all his creation, and it was GOOD. No evil can come from God. There seems to be an abundant supply of wolves in sheep’s clothing who would have you believe their own interpretation of scripture. They have no concept of the Holy Spirit as the teacher within those of us who have asked and received him into our hearts.
    I pray for the misled people at Westboro to look into their own hearts and to find the truth.

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