Saturday, March 12, 2011

Tragedy in Perry County

Last week, the Clouse family in nearby Perry County suffered a terrible, terrible tragedy.  A fire destroyed their home and seven of their eight children died in the blaze.  Mrs. Clouse is also pregnant with what would have been their ninth child, and learned only days before the fire that this pregnancy came with serious complications.  Only their three-year-old survived.  The Clouses are a rural Mennonite family.  Mom was out milking the cows and Dad was out in their delivery truck.  The three-year-old survived because she came out to the barn to warn Mom about the fire.  By then it was too late.  The other seven died from smoke inhalation according to the county medical examiner.

I cannot even begin to imagine what this family is feeling.  I understand that the mother is nearly comatose with grief.  Their Mennonite community has gathered around them and has already started rebuilding their home, in cooperation with nearby Amish and "English" families.

Which makes the rest of this story even more tragic.  We learned yesterday that since their recent Supreme Court victory, the Westboro Baptist Church has decided to picket the funerals of the seven children with their messages of hate.  They plan to challenge the Pennsylvania statute which is trying to establish a decent perimeter at funerals and similar events to protect mourners and still maintain the free speech rights of protesters.  Shirley Phelps, founder Fred Phelps' daughter and one of their lead litigators, said, "We're coming to Pennsylvania because the entire state enabled a Pennsylvanian and a few Pennsylvania lawyers to try to declare war on God.  It was an epic failure and God is punishing the state."

That's right.  According to the Westboro Baptists, God killed these seven babies because Pennsylvania allows gays to exist.  And because it was a Pennsylvania father who took Westboro to the Supreme Court for protesting at his straight son's military funeral.  (Yes, God also hates the entire United States and punishes us by killing our soldiers because we tolerate homosexuality.  These same nuts protested the San Diego Comic Con because reading comic books elevates Superman and Batman to godhood, reading comics is a form of idolatry, and kids should be reading the Bible anyway.)

This is what we get for protecting the rights of these hate-spewing sons of bitches.

I still feel that these protests are illegal and should not be protected by free speech, any more than yelling "Fire!" in the proverbial crowded theater.  It is hate speech, which should never be tolerated, much less free.  People are flocking into Perry County in support of the Clouse family, to the point where even if Westboro pulls one of their no-shows it threatens to become a media circus -- which is exactly what this family hopes to avoid.  All they want is to be left in peace to grieve their horrendous loss.

I hope they get a quiet and uneventful memorial for their lost children this Tuesday.  As a father I mourn with them for their children and hope that their community gives them the strength to continue on, if only for the sakes of their surviving child and the child yet to be born.

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