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Should the Westboro Baptist Church Be Protected Under the First Amendment or Should There Be Limitations Placed on Them?
When the majority of people think about the church, they think of the Bible, teachings, and people greeting each other in an atmosphere of love and acceptance. But there are also those who are somewhat more controversial thereby having opinions and feelings that are different than the traditional church. This paper will discuss Westboro Baptist Church to include the history of the church, the First Amendment of the Constitution relative to the church, considerations concerning the limitations of this church, Logos, Pathos, and Ethos relative to this topic, and a conclusion that brings all of the information together.
The Westboro Baptist Church was incorporated in the late 1960s and is a non-profit organization. The church members consider the church to be a Primitive Baptist Church with the leader, Fred Phelps and his family, making up the majority of the group’s members. The church has no official affiliation with what is viewed as the mainstream Baptist churches (ADL). The Westboro Baptist Church members protest against such things as the Jewish institutions throughout the country to include Israeli consulates to synagogues as well as Jewish community centers. This group also distributes material when protesting to include anti-Semitic fliers that are used to let people know where future planned protests will be held. In 2010 the group started mailing anti-Semitic DVDs to Jewish organizations as well as leaders. DVDs have also attacked President Obama with a description of him as the anti-Christ. The group has targeted homosexuals, Catholics, and other Christian denominations that the organization believes to be unorthodox (ADL). The group has stated that they believe that the majority of Americans and American institutions are sinful with the plan of targeting any individual or organization at will.
The group announced planned travel to Great Britain in 2009 and did travel to Canada in 2008. In Canada, the group picketed the funeral of an individual who was murdered on a Greyhound bus. The Canadian authorities tried to stop the group from coming to Canada but the group claimed they were able to evade the patrol agents (ADL).
One of the most important documents created in US history is the Constitution of the United States. The Constitution is of importance because it protects individual freedom placing the government’s power in the hands of the people who live in the country. One amendment within the constitution that is relevant to this paper is the First Amendment which has several annotations. Within the First Amendment of the US Constitution it states that the US Congress cannot make a law that respects an establishment of neither religion nor prohibiting the free exercise or abridge the freedom of speech or of the press or the right of people to peaceably assemble or to petition the government for a redress of grievances (Findlaw). This amendment allows the freedom of religion which is an important part of the American understanding of liberty. While the First Amendment cannot be used to break basic laws the free exercise of religion is not seen as toleration but a natural right (Findlaw).
Due to the First Amendment of the Constitution, there is not a legal way to set limitations on the church; however, it is somewhat confusing as to whether Westboro Baptist Church is really a church or simply a group of people who agree on the same concerns. While the organization incorporated itself as a non-profit, it does not by all accounts really behave as a church. According to Hitchcock the separationist clause of the First Amendment is basically general with some states maintaining relationships between the church and the state which later constitutional doctrine viewed as unacceptable. When viewing religion, the First Amendment contains two clauses with the second confirming the free application of religion; however, the extent of the free exercise clause is not. There are no restrictions of religious liberty with the exception of extreme cases to include the Mormon practice of polygamy that existed in the nineteenth century (Hitchcock). There are those who may believe that this group is closer related to extremists versus being members of a church.
In discussing the Westboro Baptist Church, there are three different perspectives to view to include Logos (logic versus reason); Pathos (emotional appeals or appeals to the heart); and Ethos (ethical/credible/character) perspectives. These three aspects can allow a rational view of the Westboro Baptist Church and its purpose.
Logos concerns logic versus reason as logic is a basic description of cause and effect. When viewing reason and logos reason is not defined as this is a process that transcends logic. The word reason is translated as “The Word” being associated with Christ the Son of God with the paradigm of LOGOS is the source of reason. Throughout the scriptures Christ the Son of God is described in the form of Love, not hatred (“LOGIC Vs. REASON”). Yet the Westboro Baptist Church member’s state that God’s hatred is one of His holy attributes with the picketing being a form of preaching. The group has more of a focus on doom and gloom versus love and peace. In 1998 Westboro Baptist Church members started a nationwide anger reaction attending the funeral of a gay murder victim carrying signs stating that there are “No Fags in Heaven” and “God Hates Fags” (“A History Of Anti-Gay Hatred”). While everyone has a right to believe in what they choose to believe in, the church is viewed as a place of refuge where everyone can attend and be accepted.
Pathos concerns the emotional appeal which is viewed by some to be the most effective method of persuasion. Emotional appeals enable the ability to change people’s minds based upon feeling. There are six traditional human emotions to include (“Shot To The Heart”) happiness and pleasure, love and compassion, desire, fear, guilt, and anger. Words as well as images and music can be used to encourage others thereby bringing about a degree of rationality.
In today’s society, the church plays a major role as the Church is viewed as the place where people can go and get what can be viewed as the ‘spiritual fix’ as the church is thought to be the hospital for the sick not just a club for those who are religious. Through Pathos the church is seen as the place to meet the needs of the people spiritually, emotionally, and physically. Even now there are many people who attend church who are literally struggling to meet the basic needs of everyday life with the need to feel love and acceptance. No one can feel loved and wanted if they are in the presence of anyone who only feels that certain people should be loved and welcomed and that others are doomed because they do not fit a certain model.
Ethos concerns ethics, credibility, and character, with an appeal. When thinking of ethos this is the way that people portray themselves when in a debate or argument. Note that this is the position of the individual doing the persuading versus the audience (“Ethos”). Ethical behavior determines the authority and credibility of an individual with authority referring to power or knowledge or the combination of both. Authority can also reference the control that a person has relative to knowledge such as a professor in a university teaching on a specific subject or a police officer who has the ability to arrest, give out tickets to speeders, etc. Authority has knowledge and knows how to differentiate right from wrong (“Ethos”).
Credibility concerns trust which takes time to build especially when dealing with people. Being credible is important as people desire to trust and to be trusted. With the combination of ethics, credibility, and character an individual can become a citizen that makes a great contribution to society. Individuals who possess this type of behavior are expected to be found within the church as these people can enable others to be successful.
Within this paper the Westboro Baptist Church has been discussed. This group was incorporated as a non-profit organization in the late 1960s with the name of Church included within the name. The group is not considered to be a church based on the traditional meaning of church as the organization is not viewed as a mainstream church. Members of this non-profit group target homosexuals, Catholics and other Christian denominations that they as members believe to be unconventional. The group also believes that the majority of Americans as well as American institutions are sinful thereby giving them the right to target any group, organization, or individual at will.
The First Amendment guarantees the freedom of religion which is a most important part of the American understanding of liberty. With this amendment being in place, no limitations can be placed on the group providing they obey the basic state and federal laws. By having the name ‘church’ within their title, it is somewhat misleading as when people hear of a church they envision people gathering not only to worship but to be a part of something that is important and that means love and acceptance.
The examination of Logos concerns logic versus reason as logic is a basic description of cause and effect. The word reason is translated as “The Word” thereby being associated with Christ the Son of God with the paradigm of LOGOS being the source of reason. The majority of people associate the words Christ the Son of God as love, not hatred. This is of importance to people in general as everyone desires to be loved and to be accepted based upon who they are.
Pathos concerns emotional appeals or appeals of the heart thereby dealing with an individual’s personal emotions. Happiness, pleasure, love, and compassion are all associated with Pathos. With the church playing an important role within society, the church is viewed as a place for everyone to be welcomed without being judged thereby receiving love and acceptance.
Ethos concerns ethics, credibility, and character. These are traits that all individuals should possess thereby having the ability to be trusted. Understanding the importance of these traits allows an individual to make a positive contribution to society as well as to live a peaceable as well as enjoyable life. This is yet another aspect of expected behavior by individuals within the church.
Westboro Baptist Church members have their own opinions and beliefs relative to people’s individual freedoms. While every individual has the right to think and feel as they choose to, no one has the right to judge others in a protest setting making statements and judgements that are based on personal beliefs. The real church is a place for everyone, not just a selected few.
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