Westboro Baptist Church Members Protest at Joe Paterno’s Funeral

by on February 24th, 2015
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COMMENTARY | Joe Paterno, a hero to many in State College, Pa., is the latest victim of the Westboro Baptist Church. Paterno died after a short battle with lung cancer at the age of 85. The legendary coach of the Penn State Nittany Lions football team is being honored with memorial services at most of the local campuses as well as the large main campus. Each event that students may participate has been booked up. A free memorial service held at the Bryce Jordan Center ran out of 10,000 tickets after just seven minutes.

Previously, the church had stated that it planned to protest the funeral of 9-year-old Christina Greene, who was killed in the same shooting that Representative Gabrielle Giffords was severely injured in. Thankfully, the church never showed up because a local radio station offered the group free airtime. It is unfortunate that the group tries to get national attention by causing families and friends more pain when the individuals are at their lowest.

Paterno’s image was tarnished in recent months. In November, news broke that a former member of the coaching staff, Jerry Sandusky, was being charged with sexual assault. He allegedly committed the sexual assaults on young boys. There were also allegations that Penn State knew but did nothing. A former graduate assistant, Mike McQueary, had said he witnessed the assault and went to Joe Paterno with the information. Paterno called Tim Curry and Gary Schultz to inform them of what McQueary said. Schultz was Vice President of the university at the time and in charge of the campus police. Although in hindsight, Paterno does regret not going further, he had not been charged with any legal wrongdoing. The same day that Paterno announced he would leave at the end of the season, the Board of Trustees for Penn State University decided that was not soon enough and fired him immediately.

The coach may not be perfect, but he, his family and friends did not deserve to have the Westboro Baptist Church protesting his funeral and carrying signs for all those who attend to read. Typically, the church announces an intent to go to the specific and high-profile funeral. He is a legend and he deserved respect. This was not a time to focus on scandal, but to come together and remember the good times. What allegedly happened in Happy Valley was awful and, if it is true, the people responsible deserve all the penalties that the judge can give them.

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