I was listening to a very interesting Feast of Fools episode the other day all about the Westboro Baptist Church, the group behind God Hates Fags. Basically the reason for the show was the website created by Josh Kilmer-Purcell entitled Phags For Phelps.
He has formed a pen pal relationship with Shirley Phelps-Roper (default spokesperson for the church now that her father is so aged), who appeared on the show with him. She came across as a very intelligent, rather witty individual and she offered a very interesting perspective on how the church began it's picketing activities.
Josh set up his site after writing an article, in which he called for a group to support the Phelps campaign on the bizarre, but fairly spot on, assertion that they are helping gay rights by exposing both the craziness of their own position and the hypocrisy of other homophobes who give lip service to separate but equal laws.
I also appreciated Phelps-Roper's attitude towards public prayer (I have always wondered if I had read the scriptures wrongly, but no... I was right in remembering public prayer was very much frowned upon) and her attitude towards the hypocrites that seem to find a home in Christianity.
All this is very good but I cannot agree with his idea of offering tongue in cheek "support" for these crazy peoples beliefs. I believe in religious freedom. If you want to believe in the story of Xenu, the concept of the Garden of Eden being in Jackson County, Missouri or homosexuality as one of the greatest evils known to man, I'm not going to care.
However if you cause harm to others by following through on these beliefs than I believe you have crossed a very fine line into the territory of totalitarianism. It is quite clear that the Westboro Baptist Church have crossed that line. It's not the fact that they protest at funerals that is wrong, I believe in the right to protest, it is the fact that laws had to be passed in various states just to keep them at a reasonable distance from bereaved people, something any decent person would have done without the need of any legislation. It is almost inhuman for them to think they have the right to involve themselves in the personal lives of others in such a private place as a church or cemetery. It is an act of violence against those peaceable people paying respect to their lost loved ones. It is unacceptable and I find any hint of support for them to be disgusting.
It's made worse by making this support more tongue in cheek than actual, just for the laughs as it were, and in so doing they are almost trying to make light of a worrying cult whose activities are disturbing, disgusting and unacceptable in a civilised society.
By all means have a dialogue with them, learn about them, but don't treat them like loveable crazy people. That demeans them and their victims. They should be opposed with reasoned debate and peaceful action in order to ensure their group is never any more than an oddity.
Check out Louis Theroux's (I LOVE LOUIS!) documentary on what he calls America's Most Hated Family for a very intimate, and disturbing, look at this church and it's activities.