Saturday, May 17 will be a day to make Colorado State University proud. For many thousands of students, the long effort will be over and the years of studying and working finally made into something tangible. They will wear caps and gowns as they step out of college into a new period in life.
It may be graduate school. It may be a job. It might only be a hope for a job. Every college student’s goal is to reach that day. Every year graduation confirms the good that comes from this school. It will be a salute to one class and an encouragement to the rest of us. A bright day on the horizon, but not without one small dark spot.
CSU has recently come to the attention of a most unlikely group. Happy families and alumni will not be the only ones coming to town next month; members of the notorious Westboro Baptist Church will also descend.
The church is based out of Topeka, Kansas. Since the early nineties, Westboro garnered the dubious reputation as one of the nation’s most hateful and extreme churches. Targets of its hate are numerous: Lutherans, gays, Catholics, Jews, Muslims and atheists are among a few that Westboro claims are evil Satan-worshipers. The church has recently become known for its vitriolic anti-gay protests. They have picketed funerals of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, celebrating the deaths as evidence that God is punishing the United States for tolerating homosexuality. Westboro has also praised God for events such as the Boston Marathon bombing and the recent mudslide in Washington.
On graduation day they will be here on campus, protesting you.
Why we have been singled out by the Westboro Baptists is not entirely clear. In a church statement they call us “filthy, base, illiterate, Godless, Bible-deprived, God-hating, God-hated, without-hope young people.” College students seem to be the embodiment of just about every sin the Bible mentions, and a handful that it doesn’t. It seems bizarre for them to come all the way to Colorado to insult us. Reason can’t really be expected of people who seem so blinded by hate. What’s clear is that if they carry out their plans, we can expect to be insulted and verbally abused next month.
My first reaction when I heard about his was something along the line of “they shouldn’t be allowed to do that.” My response was rash and carried deeper consequences than I intended.
In my opinion, Westboro’s ideology is appalling and I would be fine if they never expressed their beliefs again. But, being just one man, who am I to judge who should be allowed to speak and who shouldn’t? General society may also disagree with them, but a world where everyone goes along with the consensus opinion seems like something out of an Orwell novel.
Freedom of speech is something that just about everyone supports, at least in theory. We would all be outraged if we were not allowed to voice our opinions. The hard part is supporting free speech for those with whom we disagree. But, there is no such thing as free speech for some and not for others. It’s all or nothing. The good that comes of free speech is far greater than the discord spread by people like the Westboro Baptists. It seems like a stretch of the imagination, but if society could silence today’s bigots, who might be the target tomorrow?
If and when Westboro comes here, some of you might have the temptation to confront them. You might want to follow the lead of the University of Arizona, where a thousand students amassed to confront four Westboro members picketing the funeral of a girl killed in the 2011 Tucson massacre. That is the emotionally satisfying way to confront a protest like this, but it isn’t the best way.
The church has been met with counter-protesters in the past. This has failed to change their views and tactics. A group as openly hateful as Westboro Baptist Church does not care about its popularity. They seem to be asking for confrontation with their protests. Don’t give it to them. Take the example of the Arizona counter-protest. The only thing it accomplished was putting the spotlight on what might have otherwise just been four angry folks in the street. If you want to respond to Westboro, consider silence. Imagine what it would say if they held a protest that nobody bothered to come and see.
Aaron Kolb wants CSU to confront Westboro with silence. Feedback can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
We all know how appalling Westboro’s claims are.
Even though you may not agree, that church has the right to say whatever it is they want.
Don’t give them the satisfaction; consider confronting them with silence.