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March 25, 2014

Even Mean Speech is Protected

Harry M. Covert

The matter of free speech surely, completely and without exception is certainly alive and well. Contrarians and other questioners need only remember the name of Fred Phelps. Thankfully he's not from Frederick.


Phelps is the odious man who masqueraded as a Baptist preacher. He pushed the limits of saying what you want, when you want, no matter where you are, or who you hurt. To the utter astonishment, but truly proper perhaps, the U. S. Supreme Court backed up his railings.


I have known, met and worked with hundreds, probably thousands of ecclesiastical types all of my life from all sorts of denominations. Fortunately I never met a man or person of the Phelps ilk, or who personified such hate as this disbarred attorney. There are certainly other malicious and despicable public personages in the United States and around the world.


Even political partisans and residents enjoy rather raucous relationships with constituents in Frederick County and everywhere. Snide remarks are usually everywhere to be heard about this candidate or that wannabe. The laughs are there, but usually only momentarily, as opinions and conversations move to other subjects.


What about Phelps? I'll not dignify him as either mister or reverend or other honorifics. He's the man, under the banner of an independent church, who preached hate. He led his few members, mostly his family, to funerals of killed soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan where they carried banners saying these heroes' death were the result of God's punishing America for supporting homosexuality.


Similar banners included such words as "God still hates fags."


There's no need to describe other signs carried at soldiers funerals, even at Arlington National Cemetery.


While the Supreme Court held up the right to free speech at such events, the justices in an 8 to 1 ruling, maintained buffer zones. Usually, police at the protesting sites kept the Phelpsians in check, but their irreverent signs and chantings were still heard.


His teachings and conduct were abhorrent. He was born in Meridian, MS, went on to Pasadena, CA, where he was a John Muir College student. He managed to earn a law degree in 1964 from Washburn University School of Law in Topeka, KS. He was not successful even though he did win some discrimination cases.


His Kansas disbarment came in 1979 for professional misconduct.


Phelps was an embarrassment to fellow Kansans, in fact much-loathed. His public protests began in 1991.


The point here is simple. There are certainly others of mean and cruel speech who enjoy the freedoms through Maryland and all of the 50 states without recourse. Phelps is no example to follow by the public in ministry or any other way of professional exercise. He liked to wear his Mephistophelian lifestyle as a badge of honor.


So, why give space to such a character? It's simple. This should be a further alert that such people exist and do benefit from the basic freedoms relished by ever taxpayer and non-taxpayer.


He succumbed in a hospice and one of his sons said his father had been kicked out of his church.


During the current church year leading up to Easter, Scripture talks of the "beautiful feet of them that preach the gospel of peace and bring glad tidings of good things."


There is another verse, particularly used in Lenten services which says: "blessed are they that hear the word of God and keep it."


But, the tongue and actions of a man such as Phelps are more than obvious. He was an “unruly evil, full of deadly poison."


What a lesson to learn. Only in America?


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