Reporter: Liz Hayes
Producer: Phil Goyen
Right now, on the other side of the world, there is a bunch of people who hate you. And we mean absolutely despise you.
But don't worry; they hate everyone else in Australia.
The folk of the Westboro Baptist Church hate us so much that they actually rejoice in our suffering.
The tragic bushfires of 2009? This year's devastating floods?
Apparently, we deserved it all.
And the US Supreme Court lets them say it and more.
Under Freedom of Speech, these so-called Christians damn us all to hell, and that wayward Liz Hayes is right at the front of the queue.
LIZ HAYES: They’re despicable.
WOMAN: Have you ever been to Australia?
PROTESTER: You don’t have to have gone to Australia to know it’s a fag nation
LIZ HAYES: The Phelps family of Kansas and the faithful followers of their Westboro Independent Baptist Church spreading hatred in God’s name.
WOMAN: Do you know what my children say when they drive by here?
PROTESTER: Whatever you’ve taught them to say.
WOMAN: No, no.
PROTESTER: In your evil black heart what you taught them to say.
LIZ HAYES: They claim God mostly hates homosexuals but it seems no one is safe from damnation. Catholics, Jews, politicians, divorcees, even entire countries.
FRED: Australia is Sodom in the pacific. And we got a map of it shaped like a fat weenie, you know how the Australian map looks right in the big middle of the ocean, well, we’ve got Sodom written across it. S-O-D-O-O-M.
LIZ HAYES: We’re doomed?
FRED: Oh, absolutely you’re doomed.
LIZ HAYES: That’s right. You’re all going to hell. And apparently God especially hates me.
PROTESTOR: If you love God, you’d keep his commandments. And so far what you’ve done is you’ve made a kinda – you’ve kinda mocked the whole standard.
FRED: You’ve got the Lord mad at you.
LIZ HAYES: Clearly. 81-year-old Fred Phelps is head of the haters. They call him ‘gramps’, the patriarch and founder of Westboro. I still don’t know why it’s homosexuals that you focus on. Why isn’t it murderers?
FRED: Because they admit they’re sinners. Homosexuals are walking abominations in the estimate of God and I’m not interested in anyone else’s estimate. God’s estimate. God hates fags which is a profound Bible truth. Anybody that doesn’t believe God hates fags doesn’t believe the Bible, ergo, they’re going to hell. That’s my message.
LIZ HAYES: Since 1955, this disbarred lawyer has publicly attacked anyone who strays outside his own particular version of God’s law. Aren’t you the most hated family in America?
FRED: Ah, Lord I hope so. What a compliment you’re paying me, except the last time somebody said that to me and wanted to know did that make you mad, ‘I said yeah it made me mad because what you should have done was say we were the most hated family in the world’.
LIZ HAYES: Provocative he may be, but until now it’s been easy to dismiss Phelps and his group. But this small band of religious zealots recently forced America to examine its very constitution when the US Supreme Court classified their vile pickets and placards as Freedom of Speech.
FRED: We would have been sued and lost and put in jail if we’d been preaching this stuff in England or Australia and that’s because England and Australia are past any hope. They’ve spit in the face of God for the last time.
LIZ HAYES: Westboro’s philosophy might be small-minded, but they think big when it comes to causing maximum offence.
STEVE: I enjoy serving the Lord my God.
LIZ HAYES: No, you enjoy being offensive.
STEVE: No, I don’t.
LIZ: You love it when there is pain and anguish.
LIZ: You do.
STEVE: What I love is this, I love knowing that what I have is that I have the Bible on my side and you’ve got buttkiss, woman. You’ve got buttkiss for your position.
LIZ: What is buttkiss?
STEVE: Zero, zilch, nada, I’ve got Bible.
LIZ HAYES: Steve Drain has been with Westboro for the past 10 years. He’s the mastermind behind some of the church’s nastiest work. When he’s not adding to the collection of offensive signs. He’s creating mock music videos – hoping they’ll go viral. They revel in catastrophe - the more tragic the better - believing disaster is God’s vengeful hand at work. You rejoice in what you call ‘godsmacks’?
STEVE: Godsmacks. Godsmacks, no question. What the people of the world will do they’ll say ‘oh, it’s mother nature’. Mother Nature? It’s God. It’s God kicking your arse for your sin.
LIZ HAYES: Everything from Heath Ledger’s death to our recent natural disasters are retribution for Australia’s sins. There were the bushfires, the floods in Australia, Heath Ledger’s death all those things are in your opinion a good thing.
STEVE: I love them. I don’t just like them I love them and I thank God for them.
LIZ HAYES: But of all Westboro’s stunts, it’s this - picketing the funerals of soldiers that brought Fred Phelps and his followers the national attention they always craved. America prides itself on its constitution and in particular it’s right to freedom of speech so when Westboro Church decided to picket the funeral of Matthew Snyder, a 20-year-old soldier killed in Iraq, the first amendment was sorely tested. Steeped in unimaginable grief, the young soldier’s father Albert Snyder was outraged. He took the church to court saying Westboro wasn’t just offensive, it was abusing its right to freedom of speech.
ALBERT: They took the one opportunity that I had to bury my only son and ruined it for their personal gain.
LIZ HAYES: Matthew was Albert Snyder’s only son. He wasn’t the first father who saw a loved one’s funeral marred by Westboro, but he was the first to fight back. I imagine you’re a staunch believer in that First Amendment?
ALBERT: I’m very much a believer in the First Amendment but I don’t think the First Amendment should be allowed to hurt another person intentionally.
STEVE: Thank God for dead soldiers?
LIZ HAYES: Exactly.
STEVE: Pray for more dead soldiers?
LIZ HAYES: Exactly.
STEVE: Your sons are in hell?
LIZ HAYES: Exactly.
STEVE: Yeah, we’re saying that because all those things are true.
LIZ HAYES: If it was my child, if it was my child the overwhelming desire would be to go and ram that sign where the sun don’t shine.
STEVE: And that would be that’s the way everybody does.
LIZ HAYES: And you would feel that too, surely.
STEVE: No. I never would.
LIZ HAYES: In the end, the Supreme Court ruled that Westboro’s voice, no matter how unpleasant, was protected by the First Amendment. This is freedom of speech.
ALBERT: To the American people it’s not. It’s an abuse of the First Amendment.
LIZ HAYES: Are you not in many respects inciting hatred, vilifying people when you use this power of freedom of speech?
STEVE: It’s what God has given us.
LIZ HAYES: God’s a great out.
STEVE: No it’s not a great out. That’s the way you see it.
LIZ HAYES: That’s the way you see it. You think you can do anything you want because God’s on you’re side.
STEVE: Is it normal practise in Australian journalism to tell people what they think?
LIZ HAYES: That’s what you do. And it’s being handed down to a new generation. Members of the Westboro Church deliberately use their children to spread their message.
LAUREN: The thing is you know they kept drilling in our heads that we’re supposed to make people angry. We’re supposed to make them hate us, that was our goal.
LIZ HAYES: To be hated was a good thing?
LAUREN: Yeah, it was the goal.
LIZ HAYES: Lauren is Steve Drain’s 25-year-old daughter. For seven years she joined in the family picket lines. So you end up questioning who you are, what your place is in the world?
LIZ HAYES: But Lauren dared to question the church’s methods. She started speaking to outsiders on the internet. For her sins, she was thrown out of the church.
LAUREN: Well if you’re not allowed to ask questions you can’t have your own opinion, you cant have your own perspective, you can you know think anything you just have to go with what everyone is telling you and yeah, so the fact that it was suppressed they would say ‘You know I’m evil for asking these things’.
LIZ HAYES: She’s no longer allowed contact with her sisters Taylor and Faith and her bother Bo who remain as faithful foot soldiers for the cause.
TAYLOR: That’s our duty. Ah we’re called to cry aloud and to spare not and to lift up our voice like a trumpet to show these people their transgressions
LIZ HAYES: What sort of signs do you normally carry?
BO: God Hates Fags, God Hates Easter, Jews Killed Jesus.
LIZ HAYES: Do you know what a fag is?
BO: A fag is like a boy and boy getting married and a girl and girl getting married.
LIZ HAYES: You would never go back?
LAUREN: No. Never.
LIZ HAYES: Even if it means you may never see your family again?
LAUREN: Yeah, I hate that I have to be put in that position but I will not sacrifice my life, my values the person I am just to be crazy like them.
LIZ HAYES: I just don’t understand why hate has to be the overriding feeling? I mean, if you believe in God, then God doesn’t hate we’re told. God actually loves.
FRED: You can’t believe the Bible or read the Bible without knowing that God Almighty mentions his hatred, his wrath, his indignation that the sins of mankind more than he talks about his love. So if you’re a Bible preacher, you’re preaching hate.
LIZ HAYES: Westboro Church may not have been shut down but they’ve certainly been put in their place. 43 states of America have ruled their protests be restricted to designated areas usually, a long way from the action. This tells me everything I think. I think this tells me everything
STEVE: Everything you need to know? That’s because you’re kinda myopic in your outlook.
LIZ HAYES: In Orlando, Florida as an endless queue of cars crawl by for the launch of the next space shuttle almost out of sight Steve Drain and his crew of two and half maintain their pathetic rage.
LIZ HAYES: Do you know what Steve? I think everyone is ignoring you here.
STEVE: No. Nope.
LIZ HAYES: This is what could be called the Westboro solution. A church with a hateful voice gets to have its say from a distance and a nation gets to keep its Freedom of Speech. With all due respect, isn’t your church simply failing? It’s just . . .
LIZ HAYES: You haven’t got your word is not getting across. No-one…
FRED: Not getting across?
LIZ HAYES: ..No-one’s changing no-one’s changing their behaviour it would seem because you’re still picketing every day, every night.
FRED: Yeah, yeah, that’s right and furthermore on the Judgement Day they’ll give an account for that and they’ll say “I didn’t know I was doing wrong” and I’ll step up and say “objection your honour, they doggone good and willing knew they were doing wrong because old Brother Phelps was busy telling them from the time he was 16 to lights out”.