The controversy over the inflammatory statement by state Rep. Virgil Peck, R-Tyro, about illegal immigration continues to swirl, only now it is about whether Peck should be pressed to go further than the rather limited apologies he has offered to date, or even be censured in some fashion by the Legislature.
You likely recall that Peck stated during a public legislative hearing in March that one way to approach the problem of illegal immigration would be to gun down anyone without a green card from a helicopter like a feral hog.
House Speaker Mike O'Neal, R-Hutchinson — along with several newspaper editorial boards across the state — argue that the Peck debacle should be considered over and done. "No further time, energy or money should be wasted rehashing this event," O'Neal said, as it only distracts the Legislature from its priorities, which he outlines as all economically related.
As for Peck, he recently stated that he has apologized "more than once and in more than one place," and doesn't feel the need to comment further.
However, O'Neal, Peck and others who insist that Kansans need to "focus on what's important" are denying an elemental truth about living in Kansas: We have a unique responsibility to oppose hate speech. We have a unique responsibility to go out of our way — to go the extra mile, to even go overboard — to promote ideas of tolerance, acceptance and love for our fellow humans. In short, no matter the economic situation in the state, combating hate speech is always a priority, for one simple reason: Kansas is the home of the Westboro Baptist Church.
Members of the Westboro Baptist Church are tireless in their efforts to travel the state and the nation promoting their ideas of the various types of people who deserve to burn in hell. When they inevitably end up on the front pages of newspapers or as the lead stories of the TV news, they are almost always referred to as "the Westboro Baptist Church from Kansas." No other state receives that unique association. It is the cross we all bear for living here.
There's little legally that can be done about the protesters, but that's not to say nothing can be done. Peck's comment was so reprehensible that it attracted national and international media attention. Because of this, ironically, Peck can be a voice of opposition to the hate spread by Fred Phelps and his flock. He is one of the few people in the entire state who can pick up the phone and, within minutes, be on every national radio and TV talk show in the country.
A few weeks ago, Los Angeles Lakers basketball superstar Kobe Bryant was caught on camera mouthing a gay slur. Rather than go the Peck route, Bryant apologized profusely and went on national radio and TV programs to promote tolerance. Along with his teammates, he also made a public service announcement in which he said, "Words could be hurtful. Replace them with understanding, compassion and acceptance. Let's make this a better world for all of us."
I'm sure Bryant wouldn't mind if Peck borrowed his statement and used his fame toward a greater good. Many Kansans would appreciate it as well.