By Edwin L. "Bo" Wriston
Last week, 25 year old Parkersburg native David Hess was killed by a road-side bomb while serving in Afghanistan.
Funeral services are set for 11:30 a.m. Saturday at South Parkersburg Baptist Church, with full military honors.
The Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas plans to attend and protest at the funeral.
For those who do not know, the Westboro Baptist Church is an independent Baptist church and hate group known for its anti-homosexuality message and its protest activities, which include picketing funerals and desecrating the American flag.
The church runs numerous web sites such as GodHatesFags.com and GodHatesAmerica.com, expressing condemnation of homosexuality.
Members of the church have repeatedly picketed at funerals of soldiers, brandishing signs such as "God hates Fags" and "Thank God for Dead Soldiers."
The hate group protested at a West Virginia memorial service for the victims of the Sago mine disaster, saying the miners died because they "loved fags."
The first thought that crosses one's mind and knots the stomach over hearing that these self-defined "Christians" is outrage.
I find everything about these people reprehensible. The natural impulse is frankly to defend our fellow West Virginians as they mourn their loss.
I want to protect them from these interlopers ugliness.
I cannot believe that someone can take the words and life of Jesus and twist them so tragically as to think about protesting at anyone's funeral, let alone a soldier's.
Two wrongs do not make a right. Meeting their hate with opposite-minded hate and violence is not what this country, nor West Virginia is about.
As a member of the military, I proudly wear the uniform to protect the rights and privileges granted us by the Constitution.
Freedom of speech and freedom to assemble are two such fundamental rights.
Even though I feel that what the Westboro folks are doing is reprehensible, I begrudgingly agree they have a right to do so.
And no, the irony is not lost on me that the Hess family gave their son so that these so-called Christians could spew their hate and vulgarity in freedom.
No matter your political views, at death we should allow those who have lost to grieve with dignity.
Respect for the living as they honor the dead is just pure human courtesy.
Throughout most of history, even on the battlefield, soldiers of opposing armies would allow their enemies to collect their dead and pay proper respect to them.
There is a time and place for everything. Protesting at a funeral is, in my humble opinion, not appropriate, no matter the cause, no matter the reason.
We are a country of laws, and breaking laws ourselves to combat these hateful people dishonors the very man who gave his life to defend this country and the ideals and principles it was founded on.
It is my hope that my fellow West Virginians, in combating the hate and vitriol of the Westboro Church, show dignity and pride on Saturday by peacefully and honorably displaying the true teachings of Jesus - love, respect, and charity.
I hope that we stand firm in our resolve to represent the best examples of the non-violent protesting by the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., and Mahatma Ghandi, overcoming ignorance and intolerance with compassion and patience.
I hope we can stand as true beacons and lights of Jesus and true Christian philosophy.
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