Silent treatment

Students looking to make a point about the Westboro Baptist Church would do better to tune the group out rather than drown it out.

By Maroon Editorial Board

Few things bring people together quite like the Westboro Baptist Church (WBC). The Kansas-based group, best known for its ubiquitious “God Hates Fags” signs and protests at the funerals of soldiers killed in Iraq, has been loudly and consistently denounced. In fact, its daily pickets often draw far more counter-protesters than group members. So when the WBC recently announced plans to picket three separate on-campus locations on March 9 because of the University’s ties to President Obama, U of C students were quick to mobilize. The “Counter Protest Against Westboro” Facebook event has, at last count, 439 confirmed guests. Facebook RSVPs are notoriously flaky, but WBC members’ vitriolic speech will likely be motivation enough for at least some students to turn up on the quads to counterprotest. Such a reaction is understandable, but students looking to make a point would do better to tune the group out rather than drown it out. As loathsome as the WBC may be, the group is rendered virtually inconsequential by both its minuscule size and the universal hatred with which its protests are met. The group, despite its name, is not Baptist and is only nominally a church, with a membership consisting largely of relatives of its founder, the Rev. Fred Phelps. Its tactics, however distasteful, are nonviolent, and its arguments are unpersuasive. As their brightly colored signs and over-the-top slogans suggest, WBC members are nothing more than a sideshow in a nation with far more important things to worry about. They’re not worth our time. Moreover, while students have posted messages on Facebook encouraging only peaceful demonstrations, the WBC has a habit of bringing out the worst in people––and making them pay. One of the organization’s main sources of income comes from court settlements with individuals and institutions that attempt to obstruct protests. It’s unlikely anything productive would come from protesting the group––they can’t become any more trivial than they already are––and actions resulting in a lawsuit would play right into the WBC’s hands. When the WBC descends upon Hyde Park for an hour and a half of hysterics next month, students should go about their routines like they always do. WBC members, for all intents and purposes, reside in an alternate reality far removed from anything resembling mainstream America or common decency. U of C students would do well to leave them there.

The Maroon Editorial Board consists of the Editor-in-Chief, Viewpoints Editors, and an additional Editorial Board member.