Guns, “God Hates Fags,” and the Limits of Your Freedom

Guns, “God Hates Fags,” and the Limits of Your Freedom December 17, 2012

I own firearms. They are within a few feet of where I sit at this very moment. I’ve made no secret of that fact. They are shotguns, and I use them to hunt and shoot sporting clays.

They are empty, and the shells are kept in another part of the house. They are also secured with trigger locks and in a gun safe. Only I know where the keys to the locks and the safe are kept.

I’ve also fired an AR-15, many times. That’s the semi-automatic rifle that was used in last week’s massacre. I know the power of that weapon, and I’ve honestly had to discipline myself not to think about the damage that 3-11 rounds from that rifle would do to a 6- or 7-year old.

There is no reason to own a gun with this power. It is a military weapon. It is neither a hunting rifle, nor is it useful for personal protection. It is designed solely to kill many human beings quickly. Even gun-owners like me see no purpose in it:

“Something needs to be done,” said Joel T. Faxon, a hunter and a member of [Newtown’s] police commission, who championed the shooting restrictions. “These are not normal guns, that people need. These are guns for an arsenal, and you get lunatics like this guy who goes into a school fully armed and protected to take return fire. We live in a town, not in a war.”

You cannot own a shoulder-mounted rocket. You cannot own a live grenade. These weapons are restricted to the military. Neither should you be able to buy an assault rifle.

There are limits to your freedom.

And now comes word that Westboro Baptist “Church” is going to picket the funerals in Newtown. The fucking idiots at Westboro need to be stopped. Although it should be their coreligionists who try to silence them, it is the hacker group Anonymous, which has posted their names, emails, addresses, and phone numbers. You can call them and condemn them. I am going to.

You can also sign the White House petition, asking that the fucking idiots at Westboro be declared a hate group. I have. (The Southern Poverty Law Center has already declared them a hate group.)

My buddy Fred at Slacktivist has been ruthless in recent days on the evangelicals who remain silent in the face of ultra-right hate. He’s called out Christianity Today, among others, to stand up to the “religious right” and stop giving them an unmoderated platform. He’s called on both secular and Christian media to stop going to Richard Land and Tony Perkins for soundbytes.

The fucking idiots at Westboro have the constitutional right to say what they want, but there are limits to that freedom. When that freedom inflicts personal harm on another human being — even if that harm is psychological — then that freedom can be curbed.

We’re talking here about the First Amendment and the Second Amendment. Those are important bulwarks in American constitutional democracy. But the freedoms they enshrine are not without limits. Your freedom of speech does not extend to you shouting “Fire!” in a crowded theater. And your freedom of religion does not extend to you throwing a virgin into a volcano, or even torturing a cat to appease Satan.

We need to ban the sale and ownership of assault rifles.

And we need to protect the grieving families of Newtown from the fucking idiots of Westboro Baptist “Church.”

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  • Thank you for this Tony. Thank you. Thank you.

  • Tony, I share your anger. I’m tired of the Westboro folks getting any publicity and any space to spew their garbage. Do the local officials know about this?

  • Greg Wack

    Well said, Tony. Thanks.

  • Totally agreed.

    Your point about inflicting psychological harm on others is interesting. My personal experience has been with multiple individuals who almost perfectly fit the description of Narcissistic Personality Disorder. I wonder what it could look like to limit those people’s freedom…

  • Thom Temperli

    Tony, I thank you for putting into the words, the anger that I feel. While I do know that my personal spiritual work involves confronting my own attitudes, I do believe that some common sense can mitigate the amount of hurt, death and damage done while we as the human race, learn to evolve.


  • Nick

    I find the westboro baptist church a despicable group. There is no doubt they are hateful. With that said, we need to be careful regarding “psychological” harm. Such a subjective litmus test may be used to condemn others who may call others out on thier behaviors and thus be labeled as “psychological” harm.
    I hate what the westboro baptist church is doing. They should be called out, they should be condemned by others. At the same time, even thier vile speech should be protected. It is I these times, when we are tempered to curtail freedoms that the Amarican experiment shines more brightly. There are other ways to deal with them like the motorcycle riders who shielded them from sight in the last. In these cases I stand by what Voltaire stated long ago: “I may not agree with what you say, but I will fight to the death to give you the right to say it”

    • If we as a culture were more committed to science (i.e. what should be labeled as psychological harm) this would not be a debate. This is why you have assholes saying that PTSD after war is not a real thing. Bullshit.

      As Tony stated, you do not have the “freedom” to yell fire into a building. That absolute ideal is ridiculous.

  • Chris

    “evangelicals who remain silent in the face of ultra-right hate. He’s called out Christianity Today, among others, to stand up to the “religious right” and stop giving them an unmoderated platform.”

    Tony, I often disagree with you, but I would agree in this case that evangelicals should be shouting from the rafters that what Westboro spews is both hateful and non-christian in any sense of the term. If they don’t it is to their detriment. Shame on them. Westboro to me is a strange anomaly that some might like to place into a category that suits their personal biases and ambitions. But to me they are akin to either the Moonies, or Heaven’s Gate cult. So far out of the mainstream that they barely deserve to be recognized, except for the immediate harm they do.

    However, in a couple of careless sentences you’ve unfairly, I think conflated “religious right” and “ultra-right hate.” The case of Westboro and it’s offenses to the sensibilities of all sane people is clear. But then some are less clear. Can anyone claim psychological harm if they happen to hear an opinion that doesn’t jibe with their personal beliefs? Chuck Colson was someone that you might classify as having been in the religious right. Or maybe Francis Schaeffer. Should they have been silenced? Had legal limits enforced on their speech? I think you had castigated someone recently for trying to use this disaster to score theological points, which would be wrong. But aren’t you in this case guilty of trying to score political point as well?

    Perhaps the best thing to do would be to wait for some of the emotion to drain away and in our saner moments have a true discussion. The angst will never totally go away. But in this moment of grief I think it’s best to set some of this talk aside and allow us time to grieve before whipping people up again.

    • Ric Shewell

      The Westboro gang doesn’t wait for emotions to settle down for the discussion. They choose to surround you at your children’s funerals and tell you that their souls are being eternally tormented and ripped apart because God hates you. In your weakest and most grievous moments, they tell you that your loved ones are hated by the most powerful force imaginable and that their suffering will persist forever because you and your country is allowing gay marriages.

      Yes, that is damaging. Yes, that incites terror and violence. Yes, coreligionists should do everything in their power to end it, including recognizing what they do as criminal.

      • YES!. Thank you.

      • Chris

        “The Westboro gang doesn’t wait for emotions to settle down for the discussion. ”

        Right, and I don’t want to be like them!

    • I don’t think it’s a stretch to conflate right-wing evangelicals with Westboro. Westboro is simply more consistent. If more evangelicals actually believed what they claim they do, they would be doing similar things – and maybe even worse.

      I have no problem supporting the silencing and criminalizing of hate speech. And, much of what is said from the far right fits the bill.

      • Phil Miller

        I don’t think it’s a stretch to conflate right-wing evangelicals with Westboro.

        Well, I think it’s a stretch…, if not an out and out lie. If you can’t see the difference between a group like Westboro and the typical right wing evangelical, I think you need your head examined.

        I have plenty of deep-seated disagreements with more conservative Christians, but I also can’t deny the fact that in my hour of need many of these Christians dropped everything to come help me out.

        • I’m sure if you were friends with the Westboro people, they would be just as helpful. They might even have more pure motivations for helping you… It doesn’t change the fact that some ideas are inherently dangerous, no matter who holds them. Saying “God hates fags,” to me, is no different than saying, “being gay is sinful.” Because of the “nice” gay-haters real people die alone. That is unacceptable.

          • Phil Miller

            I think many conservative Christians are beyond the point of saying that being gay is sinful. They would, however, that engaging in homosexual behavior is sinful. Sure that can be motivated by hate or not, just like any argument can. But, I simply refuse to accept the blanket condemnation of a group of Christians.

            My parents, for example, are probably some of the most conservative Christians you could meet, but they’re also some of the most loving and self-sacrificing. My mother, for instance, not long ago made meals and went and spent time with a gay co-worker who was dying of AIDS. And no, it was not to remind him that he was going to hell…

          • Maybe Tony was blanketly condemning or demonizing an entire group of people – which he can clarify if he wishes – but that was not my goal here. I don’t think dehumanizing someone is going to result in making them more human. I am condemning their words and actions. And, on that level, there is, to me, no difference between Westboro and many if not most right wing evangelicals.

          • Charles

            “…engaging in homosexual behavior is sinful.” See, there’s your problem! Being gay is not about sex, or sex acts. It’s about love and attraction to another human being of the same gender – just like heteros.

        • I am not equating Westboro with all conservatives. But conservatives need to start speaking out strongly against them.

          • And I definitely wasn’t trying to say that all conservatives are the same as Westboro. I was trying to use additional identifiers (right-wing, evangelical) to narrow the group that I think is as dangerous as Westboro.

      • Chris

        “I don’t think it’s a stretch to conflate right-wing evangelicals with Westboro. ”

        I think that’s hateful and you should be silenced.

        • Ha!

          I don’t have the time or patience to fully defend myself here. Check out sites like or Frank Schaeffer’s blog to know where I’m coming from.

  • Carla

    Can I ask a technical question? What would happen if Westboro were declared a hate group? Would that classification limit them in some way or give local authorities more room to arrest them? What legs does that distinction create?

    • Sven

      I think it would remove their tax-exempt status, for starters.

  • Pam Heatley

    I think the thing that plagues Christianity is this blurring of love and hate. I’ve seen Westboro Baptist church interviewed and they swear they are loving people. I think this kind of stuff goes on to the extreme with this case and the subtle in churches all the time. I’ve been the recipient of this kind of love. Professing someone’s faults or bad behavior is not always love or done for someone’s good (to make sure they go to heaven). We can ‘t just profess love while acting like a mean spirited know it all. This is hate. Hate is like pornography. It’s hard to define but we know it when we see it and when you’re in the middle of it you know it when you feel it. If you don’t feel valued or safe, emotionally or physically it is not love….and we have every right to try to stop it.

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  • andy

    many of the responses i have seen in my neck of the woods (alabama), and echoed by the likes of mike huckabee, have been more along the lines of “this happened (and happens) because we do not allow God into our schools or society. therefore we sould expect these sorts of things.” while the language may not be as incendiary as the “fucking idiots” at westboro, is the picture it paints of God any better?

    • Nope.

    • Mike W.

      I’ll second that: Nope.

    • Third

      I’m getting sick of seeing this bollocks posted all over my facebook wall (I believe the responce originated with Anne Graham)

  • Eric B

    @Carly–It doesn’t matter if they are a hate group if they don’t break any laws. Which they typically don’t, as they are a family full of lawyers. Being a hate group just gets them watched a little more closely.

  • Thanks, Tony.

  • mik

    God Hates Cursing!

    (Fuck yeah!)

  • Ric Shewell


    Westboro dances on our egalitarian sensibilities while terrorizing our innocent brothers and sisters. While we’re waiting to cool our jets, they are injuring our injured. Stopping them immediately, even in anger, does not make us them.

  • Kim Bravo


  • Scot Miller

    Tony, I wholeheartedly agree with your post.

    I find it interesting that nobody seems to object to your call for some kind of sane gun control (i.e., banning semi-automatic weapons, large clips, etc.). Such restrictions on gun rights won’t “solve” the problem of gun violence, but they may be part of the solution. Good for your commenters (so far).

    Of course any sane human being would be offended by Westboro BC. As you point out, no rights are absolute, not even the right to free speech. Now the question is, what is the best way to resist the abuses hurled by the Westboro idiots? Maybe classifying them as a hate group is the first step.

    • Yes, Scot, interesting that no one wants to talk about guns.

      We live our lives on slippery slopes. We will not ban all guns, but we will ban some. We need to change where that line is.

      And we will allow free speech, but not all speech. Hate speech is not allowed. We also need to change where that line is.

      • Jeremy Loeding

        Tony, I would be interested in hearing your opinion on the historical relevance of the second amendment, in other words, what was the purpose for our founders including it in the bill of rights. And whether or not you think it’s relevant today.

        • Jeremy, it’s pretty clear, I think, that it was a reactionary amendment, meant to give the people of the republic a means to rise up and overthrow an oppressive regime. It was written in the shadow of British monarchy. We have evolved so far beyond the need for a citizen militia — and we’ve developed so much more powerful weaponry — that the amendment is archaic and bordering on obsolete. However, it is unrealistic to think that it will be overwritten by another amendment in the near future. So the pragmatic response is gun control laws: an assault weapons ban.

          And, while I think that reform may be in the offing, the real problem is the number of these weapons already in circulation. Whatever we do will likely be too litte, too late.

        • Evelyn

          The words of the second amendment are:

          “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” (1791)

          The purpose of the amendment was to allow for the existence of well regulated militias. If you don’t belong to a well-regulated militia, then you don’t have the right to bear arms. I think the security of a free state, including the security of our classrooms and gathering places, trumps anyone’s right to own an AR-15 or any other weapon capable of efficient massacre.

          • Patrick S

            This is an incorrect interpretation of the 2nd Amendment. See the Supreme Court Heller decision. We have a right to own guns. Period. The question is what parameters around that ownership do we draw. And as guns developed, the right to own it went along with it. The idea is to ensure the citizenry has the ability to fight tyranny should it rear its ugly head. One can say “it will never be needed” but that holds no water.

          • We have a right to own guns. Period.

            This statement itself requires interpretation. Who is “we”? Which kinds of guns? Nice try, though!

          • Patrick S

            Not sure what was unclear. The 2nd Amendment says all Americans have a right to own guns. Over time we have passed laws restricting that right: age, type of gun, etc. just like we have for voting and speech. But we have a clear right to own them.

            Not sure what my “try” was. Guess you’d need to interpret that for me.

          • Well, it’s obvious that the second amendment doesn’t simply, clearly say “all Americans have a right to own guns” (i.e. who was considered an American at that time?). That amendment requires interpretation, and the judges who interpreted it used a lot of different things to make their case. I happen to disagree with their interpretation. That doesn’t mean I’m right and you’re wrong, but it’s anything but “clear.”

          • Patrick S

            The Supreme Court didn’t interpret anything, they simply iterated what is the plain meaning of the Amendment: we have a right to own guns. Some restrictions are fine, as with voting or free speech. For more than 200 years that particular amendment received zero attention from the Supreme Court because it was so obvious.

          • Patrick S

            I don’t count references in other cases as really mattering, but your point is fair. Heller was the first important decision by the Suprem Court in our history.

    • I’ve seen quite a few polls and articles today around this topic, and it seems like there are actually very few gun rights defenders who see it as an absolute right (one study said something like 90% of NRA members think guns should be more restricted than they currently are). Oh, right wing media…

  • Michael Jordan

    As an evangelical I honestly have never felt the need before to critique Westboro. I don’t say that to defend myself or my silence–I’ve just never thought about critiquing them before. It always seemed to be like shooting fish in a barrel and I never really thought anybody thought of them as in any way representative of genuine Christianity as the evangelicals I know practice it. The challenges from Tony and others to speak up here are making me think about it in a new way.

  • Brian

    You have the constitutional right to say want you want. You do not have the constitutional right for anyone to hear it.

  • Sven

    WBC makes their money from lawsuits. They target vulnerable, grieving people and attempt to provoke them to violence. Throw one punch, and they sue you into the ground with their cadre of highly skilled lawyers. They then use that money to fund their continued misanthropy.

    They are a BUSINESS, and their business is to spite humanity. Of course, they call themselves a “church” and avoid any of the legal scrutiny that businesses are susceptible to.

    I grew up in the next town over from Newtown, and I’m flying home for Christmas in a couple days. If those lowlifes show their faces in the area while I’m there, I will attend the counter-protest, and remind my fellows not to stoop to punching the bastards. That’s the real way to beat the WBC: make them go home empty-handed.

  • Mike W.

    Right on Tony. Thanks for this post.
    “stand up to the “religious right” and stop giving them an unmoderated platform.” <– Yes!

  • Kevin

    When WBC rears it’s ugly head, a very small part of me wonders briefly if they are not actually brilliant performance artists, dedicating their lives to delivering a stark warning not to “fags” and sinners, but to the Christianism (to use Andrew Sullivan’s term) in America. I seriously doubt it. However, I’d like to say *SPOILER ALERT* that John Piper has it wrong. The horrible violence toward these precious ones is not the warning…the warning is WBC. They represent American evangelical Christianism when taken to its logical conclusion. This is what should shake anyone who calls themselves a Christian to the core. Think of it…what WBC calls “love” has been so twisted that they represent love’s opposite. In the case of the religious right (and/or American evangelical Christianism), many of us look at them and see this huge disconnect between them and what we know and read of Jesus (even of Paul!). It’s scary to see the similarity, and a definite wake up call for anyone who doesn’t want to see the name of Christ used and abused in such an unspeakable way.

    • andy

      “the warning is WBC. They represent American evangelical Christianism when taken to its logical conclusion.”

      what a frightening, and devastatingly correct, sentence.

      • Chris


        ““the warning is WBC. They represent American evangelical Christianism when taken to its logical conclusion.”

        what a frightening, and devastatingly correct, sentence.”

        Correction. It is a completely *illogical* conclusion. A non sequitur. It’s like saying that left-wing Christianism will ultimately lead to atheism and then socialist totalitarianism. Since there is a lot of talk here about silencing speech, which many totalitarian regimes are famous for, then you might want to reconsider your “logical” conclusions.

        • Kevin

          I disagree that it is illogical. And, I said *nothing* about silencing speech. All I said was that WBC is a warning to what American evangelical Christianism could become, if taken to its logical conclusion. I in fact *agree* with you that left-wing Christianism will ultimately lead to atheism and then socialist totalitarianism. Because we are talking about “Christianism” not true Christianity. It doesn’t matter what direction that Christianism is breaking…the logical conclusion (or logical *extreme* if that is better) is a place of non-love. Let me define it this way (although it is oversimplified): Christianism is Christianity minus love. Many evangelical, conservative Christians do know and exhibit true love. My family being a few examples. I refuse to get in a Mark Levin type argument about liberty and tyranny.

          • Chris

            Thanks for making that distinction. Although I do think that the phrase “logical extreme” is much truer and more accurate than “logical conclusion” (not an insignificant difference) I generally agree. You may not have been one, but there have been some here that seem to feel that it’s okay for some speech (it’s the *some* that worries me) to be silenced. In that vein I would agree that by your definition that those proposing such silencing would fall into the “Christianism” category.
            No Mark Levin here.

          • Kevin

            Chris, I hear you. Thanks for your responses and helping me clarify my original comment. Peace.

  • DJ

    Tony, the absolute best thing you can do to combat Westboro is to completely ignore them. They get their jollies by trying to get a rise out of people. You calling them and telling them how hateful they are is playing right into their hands. They thrive off of that stuff…it’s simply confirmation to them that they are doing the Lord’s work. If the world would like to see the end of Westboro…ignore them. Without anger provoked, they lose all their power…and their interest.

  • Robert

    The Newtown services may not be the place for this but the way Michael Moore dealt with the Phelps family was actually really interesting though I am not sure how effective. I have seen the patriot riders at funerals of service people and it is very moving.

  • Todd

    I agree that the Westboro people are misguided and disgusting. It is the duty of all Christians to actively oppose them and they do. I do not know of any conservative evangelicals who stand with this group of deranged individuals. That being said your language and hatred against those who disagree with you is contrary to the teachings of the Jesus you claim to love and follow. I also wonder what you would say about those groups who are proabortion and condone the murder of the unborn. Do you oppose those groups with even close to same vigor as conservative evangelicals oppose the Westboro people? It sounds to me that the only things that are black and white are the things that you feel are. Homosexual behavior, abortion, the behavior of the Westboro people, the murder of innocent children, As well as all of my pet sins are all just that, sin. That is why we all need to repent and believe in The Lord Jesus Christ who paid it all. We are all in the same boat. Sinners who need a savior.

    • Evelyn

      Micah 7:7-8 But as for me, I will watch expectantly for the LORD; I will wait for the God of my salvation. My God will hear me. Do not rejoice over me, O my enemy. Though I fall I will rise; Though I dwell in darkness, the LORD is a light for me.

      Micah 7:18 Who is a God like You, who pardons iniquity and passes over the rebellious act of the remnant of His possession? He does not retain His anger forever, because He delights in unchanging love.

      You see, Todd, Jesus’ death did not “pay” for anyone’s sins. God delights in unchanging love – the kind of love that doesn’t require a blood-penalty for our mistakes. You need to repent and stop worshiping a blood-thirsty demon!

    • Todd, even Jesus resorted to inflammatory language when the situation called for it.

  • Jesus

    But Tony, I love them, right?

  • Thank you!

  • Bobby

    What’s interesting to me is how quickly in this discussion the “Them” arrived. Just like conservatives found “Them” in Godless liberals who took prayer out of school, we’ve found “Them” in the Religious Right. Them. Those People. If Those People weren’t here, things would be better.

    Them = A boogeyman needed when we’re angry and require someone to be the focus of the rage we’re feeling. Never a specific person or persons, just a faceless crowd.

    Westboro’s easy. In the video game community, there’s a saying for folks who post on forums designed solely to get a reaction: Don’t feed the troll. All this media attention that Westboro gets? It’s exactly what they want. They want to be labeled a hate group, harassed, imprisoned, etc. because that’s exactly their cause: to get noticed. To be hated. It’s well known the ringleader, Fred Phelps, has serious anger issues. If you want to handle Westboro, see if they can be forced to picket a far distance from the event itself, where they won’t disrupt it, and ignore them. Like anyone who craves attention, when you starve them they die (or in this case, go home).

  • Todd

    Evelyn, I worship a bloodthirsty demon really? God did require a blood peanalty for the sins of the world. That is what was preached in the Old Testament, New Testament, and the epistles. The blood of Christ paid the penalty for the sin of the entire world. It is a shame that people reject that grace for their own sinful desires.

    • Evelyn

      Acts 19:15 And the evil spirit answered and said to them, “I recognize Jesus, and I know about Paul, but who are you?”

      Really, Todd, WHO AAARE YOU?

  • Brad C

    I so agree!
    Background: I am not a gun owner, I don’t have a personal or philosophical reason – just no use for a gun, but have many friends and family members that are. In fact my children are avid hunters and advocates of gun training and proper security and storage. I have shot a weapon a few times, but am a poor shot – I think my score at my last clay shoot fundraiser was 13 (out of 100). All that to say – I am not a gun owner but not anti-guns.

    Assault weapons should be banned! I see no reason to own one and don’t understand the logic of “self defense” that is used to justify. I cannot think of a probable scenario that would require an AR-15 for self defense.

    I think the proliferation of assault weapons since the lift of the ban in 2004 is mind boggling and can’t understand the mindset that is fostered among many in the doomsday crowd. I personally don’t believe the world is ending soon (not Friday, the fiscal cliff, or the rapture). I also think one of the sad outcomes of the advance of technology is the application of technology to the act of killing others. It is time – I am extremely grieved by this act in Connecticut and pray it becomes a true tipping point in our country.

  • Todd

    Evelyn, I am just a sinner saved by the grace of God, the blood of Christ, and the power of the Holy Spirit. That seems to really bother you.

    Tony, your “righteous ” anger does not explain your silence in other matters. You deflect because you have an improper view of sin. Your theology is new every day and changes with the weather. What was sin yesterday is courage today in your eyes. Like I said before, black and white are only that when you say they are. You are your own authority and make scripture submit to you and your whims.

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  • Jas Gray

    Some relevant comic relief I was sent today…

  • While agree with your remarks, I find it unfortunate that you could not adequately communicate without the profanity.

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