April 1, 2014

Editorial: Fred Phelps's legacy of hate

The Rev. Fred Phelps was a role model — for how a person of faith should not behave.

Phelps died March 19 at the age of 84, and we hope his hate-spouting Westboro Baptist Church succumbs along with him.

The church directed much of its vitriol against gays, but it also raised ire across the nation by protesting at the funerals of U.S. military members. 

People in the North Country were more familiar than they wanted to be with Phelps and his followers — who are, for the most part, family members — because of their two visits to Plattsburgh.

They came here first in 2005 to protest Plattsburgh being the first city in New York state to elect an openly gay mayor, Dan Stewart.

It’s possible that the Westboro contingent thought they would find support for their position in a small, rural community in upstate New York. Maybe they envisioned mobs of local people joining their protest.

There were mobs all right, but they turned out in force to line downtown streets and deliver a resounding message of tolerance. Citizens wore “Stop Hate” wristbands and displayed that sentiment on bumper stickers, shirts and store windows. They drowned out Phelps and his followers, washing away his despicable intentions in a cathartic river of peace.

It was a great moment in Plattsburgh’s history, a time when its citizenry showed they are not the backward, small-minded people that some like to paint us as, but tolerant, caring and ready to defend our community against outside agitators.

At the time, there was a push to ban Westboro protestors or have them arrested. The Press-Republican advocated for their right to free speech, even though we found their message so offensive. In the end, it was better that they were allowed to protest because it was such a unifying time for the community.

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