A Fallen Hero: Westboro Baptist Church Protests Funeral Of Small Town Soldier Killed In Afghanistan (IMAGE)
Staff Sergeant Tyler Smith graduated high school in 2006 and then joined the military with a desire to serve his country and protect our freedoms. He served with the 82nd Airborne, a storied unit with a tremendous history beginning in World War I. He had a wife, two kids, loving parents, and many friends. On April 3, 2012, Tyler Smith stepped on a landmine in a remote area of Afghanistan during his second deployment to that country. He was 24 years old.
Upon learning of the news of Smith’s tragic death, the town of Licking, Missouri lined the streets with American flags and the town paper ran his picture on the front page. Smith, who had already been a hero to many, is now a hero to the entire town.
I regret to say that I didn’t know Tyler Smith very well. I graduated the same high school in 2002 but did not know many 8th grade students at the time and in 2006, I graduated college. Tyler was a friend of my younger brother and did come over to my house with him a few times to play video games and pal around like kids often do. Tyler enjoyed hunting and fishing. He had a good sense of humor and was a genuinely nice guy. He was kind to everyone no matter what, and that’s why this next part is so infuriating.
Westboro Baptist Church has traveled to my town to protest Tyler Smith’s funeral. Considered an extreme Christian right-wing group by most, WBC is a homophobic hate group that believes God is killing soldiers as punishment for America’s tolerance of homosexuals. To spread their hateful message, WBC members protest funerals of fallen soldiers across the country. As part of their campaign of hatred, WBC has plastered flyers all around town advertising their mission.
To put it bluntly, the flyer statement is despicable and completely disrespectful of Tyler Smith and his family.
The flyer states,
“Military funerals have become pagan orgies of idolatrous blasphemy, where they pray to the dunghill gods of Sodom & play taps to a fallen fool… Staff Sgt. Smith gave his life for the Constitutional right of WBC to warn America. To deny us our First Amendment rights is to declare to the world that Staff Sgt. Smith died in vain, and that America is a nation of sodomite hypocrites…These soldiers are dying for the homosexual and other sins of America…THANK GOD FOR IEDs.”
Here’s the full version of the flyer:
The views of the Westboro Baptist Church are wrong. Despite what WBC claims, Tyler Smith did not join the military to fight for Westboro Baptist Church. He certainly did not join the military to defend their hateful rhetoric and extreme beliefs. He fought for his country to protect the rights and freedoms of everyone, including homosexuals. Tyler also fought to protect freedom of religion for everyone, including pagans. The WBC is led by Fred Phelps, a guy who doesn’t have a tolerant bone in his body, nor a compassionate one. Phelps once said emphatically that “God hates fags!” but I don’t believe that is true at all. You see, I used to attend Sunday school, and I was taught that God loves everyone. That God doesn’t hate. As a man of the Christian faith, Tyler was most certainly taught the same values. I knew and was friends with people at my school that I knew were gay. Tyler went to the same school so it is likely he knew some of the same people and perhaps others I didn’t. He was also in a military that had just ended ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ so it’s likely he may have met gay soldiers too. I doubt Tyler would hate his fellow soldiers, gay or not. According to friends and family, Tyler didn’t hate anybody. For Westboro Baptist Church to bring their hatred of other people to his funeral is an insult to Tyler’s memory. We should be honoring his service and his life and thanking God for both, not thanking God for his death.
I may not have known Tyler very well, but a lot of people in my town sure did. If Westboro Baptist Church accomplishes anything during Tyler’s funeral on Saturday, I hope their hatred inspires people to fight against hate. To fight against bullying. To fight against discrimination. These are just some of the things Tyler was fighting against on behalf of his country. He sacrificed his life fighting for peace, love, understanding, and tolerance. He did not fight for hate. He died so that ALL Americans would continue to have the rights and freedoms guaranteed to them by the Constitution. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness doesn’t just apply to heterosexual Americans, they apply to all Americans, including homosexuals. Denying homosexuals these rights would truly mean that Tyler died in vain.
Tyler Smith was an all-around great American. He’s a hero and role model for everyone to look up to. It is tragic that he died so young, but as long as we remember who he was and why he fought, Tyler will never really die. He’ll be with us always, reminding us to do the right thing, the good thing, for our fellow Americans. Treating other human beings with respect, love, and dignity gives us hope for the future that wars will cease to be waged and that no more young men will perish as a result. That future is what our soldiers fight for and is certainly something worth striving for.