Tyler Vendetti
July 20, 2013 9:00 am

I can tolerate a lot of things in life. Asides from attacks on my personal character, there aren’t many subjects that will offend me, something which is both a gift and a curse. The Westboro Baptist Church, however, is the exception. I hate them. I hate them with every bone in my body and therefore, I don’t see any reason to view their actions with respect, nor do I see any reason to treat them with an ounce of decency because they’ve proven time and time again that they are incapable of doing the same. If you’re expecting a neutral commentary on this group’s actions, please don’t read any further, because you won’t find one.

The New York Daily News reported this week that the Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) is planning on holding a protest at the funeral of the recently deceased Glee star, Cory Monteith. After joining the cast of the show in 2009, Monteith became increasingly interested in gay rights, crafting many PSAs for gay rights groups like Straight but Not Narrow, and attending events such as the GLAAD awards. Like his character Finn Hudson, Monteith made his mark in the gay community as a supportive LGBT ally. The Westboro Baptist Church plans on picketing Monteith’s funeral because his support of gay rights “taught millions to sin.”

This is literally their only reason. Cory Monteith did not personally know the group. He did not contact them at any point in his life to tell them off. He did not commit some unspeakable sin that would make him “worthy” of a protest. He simply supported a group of people who want to have their love recognized just like everybody else. And for that, his funeral will be surrounded by hoards of people that want to praise his death? Are we the kind of society that allows people to do this? Apparently.

I understand the tactics of the WBC. I realize that they straddle the line of free speech and hate speech in an attempt to incite violence against them and, in turn, win money through lawsuits so that they may continue to spew their toxic beliefs. I know that by writing about them, by talking about them, by even reacting to them, I am doing exactly what they want me to be doing. However. I’m done sitting back and hoping that they’ll go away if people just stop giving them attention because, honestly, that’s not how the news works anymore. With everyone connected to the Internet and soaking in the media’s sensationalistic coverage, simply telling people to “stop giving them attention” will never work. It is not the root of the problem. Ignoring them does not change the fact that they are legally allowed to tell a family that their loved one deserved to die and get away with it just because they are standing at the “legal protesting distance.”

I’m drawing the line between free speech and hate speech. In fact, I drew it a long time ago, but the picketing at Cory’s funeral just reminds me that it still exists. I’m all for free speech but when the practice turns from voicing your opinion to purposefully attacking groups of people with the intent to do them physical or emotional harm, that’s where I have a problem. By wishing death on certain “types” of people and confronting them at their most vulnerable moments for the sole purpose of trying to incite violence or anger, the WBC has turned free speech from a tool into a weapon. (Politico #1: But if we limit the free speech of the WBC, then the freedom of speech that this country was born on will crumble and it could jeopardize our rights. Me: Yes, I know that. But when a system allows this kind of vitriolic hatred to go around, it makes me wonder whether we need to re-evaluate the system. I don’t know how, just throwing out ideas.)

But the truth of the matter is, Cory Monteith is dead. It was unexpected and tragic and the people that are left to mourn his death, his family and friends, should not have to deal with a group of insensitive extremists that grossly misrepresent the teachings of the Bible in order to perpetuate their own vile beliefs. By allowing them to continue their practices, we as a country are giving them permission to target others for their differences and to inflict emotional distress on whoever they deem unworthy.

I will not let a group founded on bigotry and homophobia tarnish the memory of Cory, or any human being for that matter. Instead, I will remember him by his generosity, his kindness, and his strength, and I will make efforts to forget the group that attempts to undermine those qualities. For that, I don’t have to try very hard.

Image via Duke.edu

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