During my recently completed Chicago Christmas visit read in the Chicago Tribune a story from the McClatchy Newspapers about Megan Phelps-Roper of the Westboro Baptist Church. Granddaughter of the church founder, she represents a third generation of home-grown hate which first came to the attention of many Americans with its demonstrations staged at military funerals. In the spring of 2011 the United States Supreme Court acknowledged this behavior as ‘hurtful speech’ while deciding 8-1 that such actions by church members are nonetheless protected by the United States Constitution.
The story of Ms. Phelps-Roper is sad and strange, how else can one explain her being “taught that the world beyond the family’s backyard was an inherently evil place.” However, her commitment to the church’s curious christianity of caustic causes makes it is evident that she does not see it as such. It seems that she and others of this sect share a fear of the other so palpable that it reminds one of the early stages of national socialism in Germany, as well explained by Erik Larson “In the Garden of Beasts.”
This fear, whether manifested against those of a differing faith or foreign origin, underlies far too many of the troubles facing us. When tolerance is disdained in favor of xenophobic concentration on differences, social bonds are strained and public policy becomes more difficult to agree upon. Lest we adopt a “doesn’t happen here” attitude it must be acknowledged that we are not immune from such behaviors locally, as evidenced by how cultural and migrant status issues have been exploited in our recent past.