Opinion: Hate group raises First Amendment questions

For many, hearing about the Westboro Baptist Church brings to mind an ideal of intolerance and anger. The WBC is well known for much more than being a religious group. Established in Topeka, Kansas in 1955 by Pastor Fred Phelps, this church does not believe “the Arminian lies that ‘God loves everyone’ and ‘Jesus died for everyone’” according to their official website.
To citizens in the Quad Cities, their general hatred will be hitting a little too close to home. According to their picket schedule, they will be in Davenport, Moline, and Rock Island January 24th-26th. They will be protesting several churches in the area and Davenport High School.
Whether it’s a deceased soldier’s funeral, the site of a national disaster or simply a street corner in their neighborhood, they come armed with picket signs, bigotry and intolerance that’s cringe-inducing.
Many have vocally expressed their desire to put a stop to the WBC and their protests. There has even been cases in which they were physically driven out of towns, such as in Moore, Oklahoma where they were protesting after a devastating tornado tore through the town.
While many strongly disagree with the members of the WBC’s beliefs, and their ways of letting those beliefs be known, they are often met with unfair criticism that many quickly overlook.
The WBC are protected by the First Amendment, which “guarantees freedoms concerning religion, expression, assembly, and the right to petition.”
As with any other group, they should be allowed to voice their beliefs without the possibility of being suppressed. While they can be extreme, unbearable and vulgar in their ways, this is their right as American citizens.
If other groups, whether religious or political, were treated this way, the negative backlash would most likely be far less severe. Many other polarizing groups are treated with significantly less animosity.
The WBC has been demonized by the media, partially because they are a religious minority in America, with only about 39 members. The WBC suffers an unjust treatment that other groups would not receive, and it might be because they are such an easy target.
Other political groups, such as the Pro-Lifers who protest abortion, are met with criticism, but they are still generally respected as being a group speaking out for what they believe in.
Similar to the WBC, they use picket signs with forceful messages as a protesting tactics, yet they have never been physically driven out of a community. While there are plenty of people who strongly disagree with them, they are not as deprecated as the WBC.
What would happen if other groups used these tactics? Would the media react as strongly, therefore causing a magnitude of public outrage?
These are things we must ask before we jump on the bandwagon to shut down the WBC entirely.