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Michael Moore

Michael Moore is an Academy-Award winning filmmaker and best-selling author

October 12th, 2010 12:26 PM

How to Fight Fred

Eleven years ago I had the distinct weirdness of meeting the Reverend Fred Phelps of Topeka, Kansas.

You know Fred. He's the head of the loony Westboro Church in Topeka, Kansas. They're the people who like to go around to funerals of gay men who've been murdered (Matthew Shepard) or died of AIDS (Randy Shilts) and hold up signs saying "God Hates Fags." They've also gone after Ronald Reagan, Princess Diana, Heath Ledger and Jerry Falwell after they died. They did this because...well, I can't really follow their logic at this point, but clearly they feel very strongly about whatever it is they're doing.

Lately they've branched out to protesting the funerals of soldiers who've been killed in Iraq or Afghanistan. There they deliver the message that the young man or woman being buried was killed by God because of the military's Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy, which from their perspective is completely pro-gay. Therefore, God decided to bury an IED somewhere and blow it up. (I assume this all means that Imperial Japan, just before we dropped nukes on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, was the gayest place in history.)

Anyway, right now the Supreme Court is deciding a critical First Amendment case in which Fred and his family are (Aggggggh! I don't want to write this...) on the right side.

After Lance Cpl. Matthew A. Snyder was killed in Iraq in 2006, the Phelps family showed up in their usual vile, disgusting manner at his funeral in Westminster, Maryland. There they followed the rules, stayed 1000 feet away from the church, and held up their incredibly hateful signs.

Soon afterward the Snyder family sued Phelps for defamation, invasion of privacy, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. A jury awarded Snyder's father $10.9 million. Later appeals reduced the damages and then overturned the verdict. Now it's up to the Supreme Court.

And the Supreme Court should uphold the lower court's verdict finding that Westboro's protests are covered by the First Amendment. That's what we have it for. As I believe Voltaire once said, "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it, even if you're a sick old man who's probably so obsessed with gay sex because he's secretly gay himself." (Voltaire didn't actually say that last part, but I think it's implied. Nor am I referring to anyone in particular.)

Am I suggesting we just ignore this kind of hate speech? Not at all. I'm just saying that we should respond, not by shutting it down, but by using OUR First Amendment rights to ridicule it, expose it, make fun of it. For instance, here's the segment from my old show The Awful Truth where I visited Fred Phelps with my hot pink Sodomobile, a large rock bus filled with my crack squad of gay men and women who were in the back violating numerous Kansas laws (I was the driver and the desiginated heterosexual on the bus).

We followed Fred Phelps around town, protesting his hate not with hate, but with public displays of affection, Karen Carpenter songs, and some very impressive dance moves. That's the way we do it as free Americans. (Be sure not to miss Fred's rockin' sunglasses.)

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