Something wonderful happened Monday when people claiming to represent the Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church returned to Maryland to hijack the funeral of another fallen serviceman. But this time, the good citizens of La Plata and elsewhere were waiting for them. More than a thousand showed up early, forming a 10-person-deep human shield around the New Life Wesleyan Church where funeral services for 19-year-old Marine Lance Cpl. Terry Honeycutt were to be held. Westboro demonstrators who “celebrate” the deaths of American troops for what they claim is God's punishment for tolerance of homosexuality, were blocked from disrupting the service or insulting the grieving family.
Holly Smith, one of the organizers of the protective outpouring, heard about Westboro's plans, which were posted on its Web site, from friends on Facebook. Smith had previously seen a YouTube video about locals in Missouri who foiled Westboro by getting to a soldier's funeral early and surrounding the mourners, so she started Facebook messaging, e-mailing and making phone calls, including to local country radio station WMZQ.
By 8:30 a.m., so many people had converged in La Plata that Westboro members had to stop at a gas station more than a mile away from the funeral service. The stalwart sentries stood silently for three hours until the funeral procession — accompanied by 80 members of the Patriot Riders motorcycle club — solemnly traveled to Arlington National Cemetery where Honeycutt, who died Oct. 27 of wounds he sustained in Afghanistan, was laid to rest, in peace. Westboro members “were the last there and the first to leave,” Smith recalls.
Earlier this year, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned on First Amendment grounds a $10 million verdict against Westboro for disrupting the funeral of a fallen soldier in Baltimore, and the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to decide whether it's legally permissible to disrupt the private funerals of U.S. service members killed in action to make a political point. Legal or not, there is no question that the behavior of those from Westboro is an affront to human decency. Smith and her conscientious compatriots have shown how to counter it in the best American tradition.
“If we're able to do this every time, we could shut Westboro down,” Smith told The Examiner. “But we should really be doing this for every military family in gratitude, not just the ones that are being picketed.” Indeed. And the silent flutter of hundreds of American flags in La Plata this week was a far more eloquent testimony to the divine than any of Westboro's vile, headline-seeking antics.