Friday, February 24, 2006

Simple Respect

From the Minneapolis Star Tribune:

On her way into the church where the funeral was to be held for her 23-year-old son Thursday morning, Deirdre Ostlund approached six men and women waving signs against gays and America and told them in a cold fury: “I’m Andrew’s mother, and I want you to know you are truly hateful people.”

As Ostlund turned away, Shirley Phelps-Roper taunted her: “Adulterer! You can’t admit you sent your own child to hell! If she does not heed this warning, she will look up from hell with him.”

Her small group continued to sing “God hates America.”

But across barricades, crime-scene tape and police officers, 20 flag-waving men and women countered with the original, “God bless America, land that I love … “

This ritual, unfolding across the nation outside military funerals, arrived in Anoka on Thursday an hour before the funeral for Cpl. Andrew Kemple, who died in Iraq Feb. 12.

The six are members of a church in Topeka, Kan., that espouses the belief that God is killing American soldiers because they fought for a country that tolerates homosexuality. The 20 on the other side are affiliated with the Patriot Guard Riders, a rapidly growing nationwide movement organized to counter that very message.

“We’re just trying to show honor and respect for families,” said John Lutsch, a St. Cloud resident who heads the Minnesota branch of the Patriot Guard. “I was appalled when I read about these protests, that they’d use a solemn occasion like this as a forum for their views.”

This is the first I’ve heard of the Patriot Guard Riders, but judging by their website and their mission statement —

The Patriot Guard Riders is a diverse amalgamation of riders from across the nation. We have one thing in common besides motorcycles. We have an unwavering respect for those who risk their very lives for America’s freedom and security. If you share this respect, please join us.

We don’t care what you ride, what your political views are, or whether you’re a “hawk” or a “dove”. It is not a requirement that you be a veteran. It doesn’t matter where you’re from or what your income is. You don’t even have to ride. The only prerequisite is Respect.

Our main mission is to attend the funeral services of fallen American heroes as invited guests of the family. Each mission we undertake has two basic objectives.

1. Show our sincere respect for our fallen heroes, their families, and their communities.

2. Shield the mourning family and friends from interruptions created by any protestor or group of protestors.

We accomplish the latter through strictly legal and non-violent means.

— they sound like a good bunch of people who don’t care about the politics of the war but demand respect for the soldiers who serve and their families and stand with them. As they note rather vehemently, “If you’re looking for a group that protests, counter-protests or confronts any organization, you’re in the wrong place. The PGR is not a protest group.”

I think this kind of demonstration does more to marginalize Fred Phelps and his band of harpies than the proposed legislation. Sometimes moral outrage and simple respect can rise above the cold black letter of the law.