Thursday, May 7th, 2009
Washington area Jewish institutions are about to be visited by the wandering group of religious activists who believe they are winning friends and supporters by picketing the funerals of dead U.S. servicemen and women with their message that America is damned because of its tolerance of homosexuality.
The response by the Jewish institutions? To deny the demonstrators what they want most: publicity.
The Westboro Baptist Church has announced plans to picket “three fag-infested groups of Jews in Washington, DC – Anti-Defamation League, Holocaust Museum and Washington Hebrew Congregation” on Friday, according to a flier distributed on the Internet.
The group’s views on gays and lesbians is well known, but the brochure calls attention to another aspect of their theology: “Jews killed the Lord Jesus,” they announce. According to a recent ADL report, “The group had picketed an Israeli consulate in Boston in March 2009, protesting Israel’s tolerance of homosexuality. While members of the group have made public anti-Semitic statements over the years, until recently anti-Semitism has not been a major focus.
The three institutions targeted plan a low-key response. They are working closely with the DC Metropolitan Police Department and federal agencies that protect the Holocaust Museum, but plan no public events to counter the demonstrators.
“By their incredibly insensitive and offensive tactics – from protesting at Matthew Shepherd’s funeral to the funerals of service men and women — they are seeking publicity,” said David Friedman, the regional ADL director in Washington. “Therefore we are not going to play into their hands.”
Westboro demonstrations rarely draw more than 10 picketers, he said. “So the strategy is to drown them in silence and let them be seen as the extremists they are.”
Interestingly, Westboro’s unrestrained anti-gay and anti-Jewish rhetoric, prominently displayed in the most inappropriate settings, is not illegal – which undercuts one of the key arguments of Christian right groups that are opposing a new hate crimes law that extends coverage to victims of crimes based on gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and disability
Jews are already covered under existing hate crimes laws dealing with crimes based on the religion of victims, and yet there’s no legal barrier to Westboro publicly arguing that the “Jews killed the Lord Jesus,” and picketing a local synagogue as well as the memorial to victims of the Holocaust.
So it’s a little hard to swallow the common argument that pastors would risk arrest if the new law is passed merely by preaching against homosexuality.
Just a thought, not a sermon.