’Burn a Koran’ Pastor’s New BFF: Phelps’ ’God Hates Fags’ Crew

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Wednesday September 8, 2010

A Gainesville, Fla. anti-gay minister's plan to make a bonfire out of copies of the Qu'ran--the holy book of the Muslim faith--has been denounced as an invitation to violence against U.S. troops in Afghanistan by Gen. David Petraeus and condemned by the U.S. State Department as "un-American."

Buried on the web site for the group planning to burn the sacred texts, however, is clue as to the mindset of those behind the planned bonfire: a posting "in support of Westboro Baptist," the anti-gay church based in Topeka, Kansas that is run by Fred Phelps.

An April 21 blog entry at the site's web site recounts that on the previous Sunday, April 18, members of Dove World Outreach Center "went as a church to stand with" a contingent of street preachers from Westboro. The Westboro congregation--mostly made up of Rev. Phelps' extended family--have gained notoriety by picketing the funerals of fallen U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. The church claims that God is punishing America because gays are not sufficiently persecuted in this country. The church's actions have spurred state laws intended to shield grieving families of fallen soldiers from the group and its famously epithet-riddled placards, which carry slogans such as "God Hates America," "Thank God for IEDs," and "God Hates Fags."

The Westboro Baptist Church's picketing actions have enraged veterans and veterans' groups, and states have attempted to regulate where protesters may and may not carry out picketing actions at military funerals. But the First Amendment offers broad protections for freedom of speech, and a federal judge recently struck down Missouri law aimed at preventing such disruptions at the funerals of fallen soldiers.

The Supreme Court is due to take up a case of a grieving family who has brought the Westboro Church to court over a 2006 picketing action at the funeral of a young Marine in Maryland. The fallen soldier was killed in Iraq; his father, Albert Snyder, says that the group's picketing caused him anguish and emotional distress, reported the Courier-Journal, a regional newspaper serving Kentucky and Southern Indiana.

Rev. Fred Phelps had a different point of view, telling the Courier-Journal that Mr. Snyder "ought to be very thankful to us" because the Phelps group "warn[s] people about the perils of sinful conduct that will destroy a nation." But the Westboro church's website made claims about the Snyder family that were as painful for the father as the disrupted funeral, claiming that the fallen Marine's parents "raised him for the devil."

"A man who dies for his country, for peace, should not have a father who has to fight to bury him in peace," the article quoted Snyder as saying in a previous interview.

The Snyder family was awarded $5 million in damages in 2007, but that verdict was reversed on appeal in federal court. The Courier-Journal article noted that the Supreme Court will consider not whether governments have the right to restrict protests that take place near military funerals, but rather whether a claim of emotional damage resulting from such protests are actionable. Free speech scholars like Christina Wells, a law professor at the University of Missouri, dispute this.

"People say we agree with the First Amendment but when we get into areas that are offensive, like flag burning, people are much less tolerant," Wells told the Courier-Journal.

Veterans groups like the Veterans of Foreign Wars see it differently. "If Albert Snyder, a grieving father of an American hero, cannot seek remedy... for the emotional torment [the Westboro protesters] viciously imposed upon him, what purpose do our laws serve?" asked the VFW in a legal brief.

Photos at the Dove World outreach Center's site show members of the congregation picketing along with the Phelps congregation. Where the Phelps clan carries their trademark brightly colored placards, Dove World picketers wear T-shirts emblazoned with the slogan, "Islam is of the Devil."

Text at the site justifies the Westboro and Dove Outreach picketing, saying, "Westboro Baptist is not anti-military or anti-USA. Rather the opposite, actually. Do some research. They go to funerals because the Bible says that a fallen soldier is a sign of God's wrath and a reminder of the condition of this world, a fallen world, in sin." The text adds that, "we honor the fallen for their sacrifice, but funerals are also a chance to repent and get our lives right with God before our own comes along."

The text adds, "At DWOC we are also very pro-America, pro-Military, AND super, radically concerned about people's salvation. That's why we go after Islam and say it is of the devil--it is anti-Christian and anti-America."

But the man in charge of military operations in Afghanistan has warned that if the group goes ahead with its plan to burn copies of the Qu'ran, Islamic anti-American sentiments will be inflamed--and U.S. troops may pay the price.

"Images of the burning of a Quran would undoubtedly be used by extremists in Afghanistan--and around the world--to inflame public opinion and incite violence," Gen. David Petraeus told the Associated Press.

Anti-Gay Pastor Won't "Back Down"

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also spoke out against the bonfire, saying, "I am heartened by the clear, unequivocal condemnation of this disrespectful, disgraceful act that has come from American religious leaders of all faiths."

A State Dept. spokesperson, P. J. Crowley, stated that the burning "doesn't represent the vast majority of American views," reported FoxNews.com on Sept. 7.

But evangelical pastor Terry Jones told the AP that his group has no plans to cancel the book burning. "We're still considering it and praying about it," Jones said. "Instead of us backing down, maybe it's to time to stand up," Jones added.

The bonfire is planned for the ninth anniversary of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Text at the website for Dove World Outreach Center explains that the group sees torching copies of the Qu'ran as "neither an act of love nor of hate." Adds the text, "We are using this act to warn about the teaching and ideology of Islam, which we do hate as it is hateful. We do not hate any people, however. We love, as God loves, all the people in the world and we want them to come to a knowledge of the truth."

The site warns that, "The world is in bondage to the massive grip of the lies of Islam," and lists ten so-called "lies" concerning the Muslim religion and the Qu'ran. Among the claims the group makes: the Qu'ran is "not recorded in heaven. The Almighty God, Creator of the World, is NOT it's source. It is not holy. It's writings are human in origin, a concoction of old and new teachings." Moreover, the text claims, "The Koran's teaching includes Arabian idolatry, paganism, rites and rituals. These are demonic, an ongoing satanic stronghold under which Moslems and the world suffer."

The text goes on to offer further evidence that the Qu'ran is not the word of God. "All of the Islamic writings (the Koran and the Hadith, the biographies, the traditions and histories) are confused, contradictory and inconsistent." Moreover, the text says, "Islamic Law is totalitarian in nature. There is no separation of church and state. It is irrational. It is supposedly immutable and cannot be changed. It must be accepted without criticism."

The text goes on to say that the Islamic religion punishes women, and rewards men for oppressing them, and to claim that, "Deep in the Islamic teaching and culture is the irrational fear and loathing of the West." The text goes on to charge that, "Islam is a weapon of Arab imperialism and Islamic colonialism. Wherever Islam has or gains political power, Christians, Jews and all non-Moslems receive persecution, discrimination, are forced to convert."

Like the Westboro church, the Dove World Outreach Center is an anti-gay church. The group has opposed the openly gay mayor of Gainesville, Craig Lowe, organizing an anti-Lowe event called "No Homo Mayor."

Lowe was the subject of an anti-gay leafleting campaign during his mayoral campaign; the leaflets focused on his sexuality, asking voters to "Please help to make this town more like San Francisco, CA. Don't let Traditional Values Activist [sic] use scare tactics against you!"

The leaflets told voters that Lowe would support an "agenda" that included "Gays in Women's Restrooms," as well as "Gay Marriage," "Gay Public Sex Education," and "Gay Oriented Churches," among other things.

The "Gays in Women's Restrooms" was seemingly a reference to a Gainesville city ordinance that offers nondiscrimination protections to transgendered residents and allows them access to the restroom that fits their own gender identity. Lowe defended the city's ordinance in 2009 as the leader of a pro-ordinance group, and voters reaffirmed it the ordinance in March of 2009. Critics claimed that sexual predators would use the ordinance as a cover to gain access to women's restrooms and prey upon female victims. When voters affirmed the ordinance, Lowe told the media, "Gainesville is a place that will not allow discrimination. Gainesville has shown itself to be a welcoming place."

However, during the campaign, the Dove World Outreach Center set up signs reading "No Homo Mayor," later shortening that slogan to "No Homo." A year ago, the church set up signs declaring that, "Islam is of the Devil." When one of the church's signs was vandalized on the evening of July 21, the church website sought to pin the act on gays the following day. "This is private property and vandalism is a crime here in America," read the text, going on to say, "In Islam, many actions that we consider to be crimes are encouraged, condoned or sheltered under Islamic teaching and practice, though. Another reason to burn a Koran."

Under the sub-headline "Who dun [sic] it?" the text added, "Free speech is hated by homosexuals and they do not like to hear the truth about their perverted lifestyle." Other entries at the website included a photo album recording a picketing action by the church against a local pornography seller called X Mart. In one photo, a protestor holds a sign reading, "God Hates Luke Warm Churches."

The church's website has also posted slogans such as "Haiti must repent," and "Obama is president because he is black," according to an April 6 article at Advocate.com.

Although the Rev. Jones' plan to burn copies of the Qu'ran on Sept. 11 have sparked national--and international--condemnation, the AP reported that some support the idea, and have been sending Jones copies of the sacred text to be fed to the planned bonfire.

UPDATE: Rev. Terry Jones told the press on Sept. 8 that the book burning would go forward. "As of right now, we are not convinced that backing down is the right thing," Jones stated. The pastor said that he has received support for his planned bonfire, and also said that he has received numerous death threats. Jones told the media that he now carries a gun.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.