Pharyngula

An ethical dilemma!

It’s hard not to crack a cheerful smile at this story, but do try to take it seriously. A coven of Westboro Baptist anti-gay kooks went off to protest outside a soldier’s funeral in Oklahoma, and returned to their car to find their tires slashed. When they drove into town on the flat tires anyway, to try and get them repaired, they were refused any help at all.

There’s a grim part of me that feels a kind of satisfaction at that, I’ll admit. But I think it was wrong.

Don’t harm the WBC cretins no matter how awfully they prance. Do not vandalize their possessions. Don’t even threaten them. Even if they weren’t a lawsuit-happy group of parasites, they have a right to free speech and can protest all they want. This seems clear to me, with no ambiguity at all; and if I witnessed someone trying to slash the tires on a car with a “god hates fags” bumper-sticker, I’d try to stop them and alert the police. Somebody crossed the line in Oklahoma when they did property damage, even if it was to an odious gang of idiots.

I’m torn on the refusal to help them afterwards, though. If I were a tire salesman, and Fred Phelps came through the door and asked to buy a new pair of Firestones, what would I do? I despise the man and everything he stands for!

I think I’d sell him his damned tires. I think I’d even help him put them on his car. Oh, but it would pain me. It just seems to me that there is a principle at stake here, of an obligation to grant equal treatment to even the nastiest members of our society, and we violate it if we turn anyone into a pariah because of their beliefs.

So I can feel some schadenfreude here, and think Phelps actually deserves worse…but I’m also disappointed in the people of McAlester, Oklahoma who didn’t demonstrate that they were better citizens than the mad dogs of the Westboro Baptist Church.