During the Salon des Independants show at , the “Home Scapegoating System” submission by artist David Cholewa was simple and prominent. A board blaring “God Hates…” ended in a white board, with a couple of markers to tempt passerby. Several people took cracks at completing the message, but the most poetic of them merely wrote large letters over the jokes or pithy remarks to make the message read “God Hates Hate.”
The piece references the protests of the Westboro Baptist Church, a despicable gang of Kansas-based miscreants who somehow have the time, energy, and resources to travel the country to protest anything they believe God doesn’t like. And it’s quite a list. A favorite target is military funerals, where the clan screams hatred at mourning family members and employs the twisted logic that homosexuals are somehow to blame for the death of their loved one. Any sane person finds this group loathsome, but I imagine southeastern Connecticut, with its strong Coast Guard and Navy presence, must be particularly offended.
Cholewa’s piece, displayed in January, beat out the most recent spike of the WBC in the news. This month, the Supreme Court decided 8-1 that the WBC’s abominable displays were protected as a form of free speech.
The country has always had a complicated relationship with free expression. During World War I, the Espionage and Sedition Acts tested the First Amendment by proclaiming that any interference with the war effort was illegal. Its main effect was to hamstring the opponents of U.S. entry into the conflict. The Supreme Court in 1989 was more closely divided on the issue of flag burning, ultimately ruling 5-4 that it was a form of free speech.
Even in recent years, when everything from the soapbox to the Internet allows easy expression of opinion, the mood sometimes teeters on the edge of victimization. Opponents to entry into war with Iraq were not pleased to be dubbed traitors or un-American, just as members of the Tea Party are annoyed when they are characterized as ignorant and racist. Certainly, there are people on either side of the aisle who go too far with their particular messages. But at their core, their intentions are good and they end up being merely the fringe of a more reasoned movement.
The WBC, by contrast, adds nothing to the national discourse other than the unintentional effect of uniting people of all stripes to denounce them. Their number one argument: “God Hates Fags.” Their number two argument: “Thank God For…” It could be another Cholewa piece, asking people to count their blessings. Instead, the phrase is usually capped with “Dead Soldiers,” “Dead Miners,” “Oil Spills,” or any other tragic incident seen as an act of a vengeful God. One wouldn’t be surprised if the WBC asked to buy Cholewa's Home Scapegoating System in order to make a grocery list of things to be bitter about. They have expanded on their efforts by declaring that God hates the United States, Canada, Australia, Ireland, Sweden, and pretty much everything under the sun.
It is worth noting that the space shuttle program is winding down right on the heels of the Supreme Court’s decision. NASA needs something to work on now, and the best course of action might be that one-way Mars trip they’ve been contemplating, with the WBC as a crew. They may not be the best worldly emissaries for our interplanetary expeditions, but they clearly haven’t found anything to like on Earth. Maybe it’s time they started looking elsewhere.