I am a 27-year-old woman. I am a daughter and a sister. I am a nurse. I am a competitive athlete, a runner. I am an American. I am a former member of the Westboro Baptist Church. I used to spew hate. I was the ultimate bully.
When I learned about the senseless social media campaign that Westboro members began on Monday with messages like, “God Sent the Bombs,” I decided I couldn’t remain silent. The church feeds off publicity, so it feels dangerous to discuss them at all, but I think it’s important to stand up to them rather than remain silent, to speak out against their hate as silence does not deliver justice.
As I drove to work a night shift on Monday, I listened closely to the gruesome retelling of the events of that day in Boston, a city I visited with my fiancé a few weekends ago. I found myself welling up with tears and feeling hot and my heart raced. I had a visceral reaction as I’m sure many people have had. I put myself in the shoes of the runners ready to celebrate their amazing accomplishments, the spectators, the proud mothers and fathers and sons and daughters who had gathered in the heart of Boston, and I felt compassion and empathy.
Those feelings could have turned to anger as I learned of the WBC’s plans to picket the funerals of Monday’s victims, but I feel it’s important to underscore that we live in a free country. What was being celebrated on Patriots’ Day is our national freedom, one that allows us to welcome visitors from all around the world to compete and participate in the marathon. That freedom relies on the First Amendment, and as long as it prevails, the WBC will always have ways to spread their venomous messages.
We cannot, nor should we, try to control their right to free speech: what we can control is how we react. To focus our energy in a negative way on these protesters rather than sending our compassion and prayers to those who have lost life and limbs and their grieving families isn’t in the spirit of the marathon or what it means to be an American and a patriot. Boston’s healing process will be long, but it’s already underway with an unprecedented outpouring of support.
Tonight, instead of cursing the darkness, I’ll light a candle.