Comment Of The Day: “Don’t Cheer Mississippi’s Westboro Baptist Tactics Too Loudly: You Never Know Who Might Hear You”

An Ethics Alarms commenter with the evocative screen name of Fuck you, who is a bit behind on his surfing, or perhaps a really, really slow reader, was moved to author today’s Comment of the Day on a post from seven years ago regarding the tactics used by Mississippi law enforcement to foil a legal demonstration by Fred Phelps’ merry band of homophobes.

Why is this a Comment of the Day? It perfectly embodies the rudimentary, lizard-brain level of ethical analysis that predominates in the public, in much of the media, and among our elected officials. It is helpful, to me at least, to read such comments, for this is exactly the find of gut-level, emotion-based, legally and ethically ignorant reaction that my work exists to overcome. I’ll have more to say after the Fuck You has his say.

As an aside, it was nostalgic reading the names of the commenters on the original post. There, for example, fighting as usual, were liberal logic-cop tgt and uber-conservative Stephen Mark Pilling. Ah, those were the days…

Here is Fuck You’s Comment of the Day on the post, Don’t Cheer Mississippi’s Westboro Baptist Tactics Too Loudly: You Never Know Who Might Hear You—I’ll be back at the end:

Fuck you for this comparison. I know I’m coming in years later with this and I hope that others have already expressed a similar sentiment. I also understand the point you are trying to make. But still FUCK YOU. I sincerely hope that if you ever lose someone dear to you, these fucking hatemongers show up and protest that person’s funeral. FUCK YOU. Yes they have a right to protest but this type of shit should definitely qualify as a reasonable restriction, like yelling fire in a crowed theater.

FUCK YOU. This comparison is not only an insult to the Marine in question but also to the civil rights activists from decades ago that you just compared to the fucking WBC. FUCK YOU.

Once again Fuck you, you goddamn scum ass mother fucker. Oh, and FUCK YOU.

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Incompetent Elected Official Of The Month: Maricopa, Arizona Vice-Mayor Ed Farrell

The OnionWhat conduct definitively labels an elected official as incompetent, you ask? Well, opinions may differ, but I think we can all agree the publicly exposing yourself as uninformed, ignorant, and devoid of reading comprehension qualifies.

Meet Maricopa, Arizona Vice-Mayor Ed Farrell (D), who saluted the passing of anti-gay, military funeral-disrupting Fred Phelps, who tookleave of this homosexual-blighted world recently, by writing this on his Facebook page:

“We need more Fred Phelps in this world. May you rest in peace sir….This world needs to get back to the biblical standards that our God made for us. This guy was not afraid to preach it, and I respect that.”

To prove his point, Farrell linked to a satirical obituary in The Onion, believing it to be genuine. He believed this despite clues like the following:

“What Fred Phelps accomplished over the past 30 years—from a federal constitutional amendment limiting marriage to one man and one woman, to nationwide laws allowing businesses to turn away gay customers—makes him easily one of the most successful and monumental figures of the past century,” said biographer Michael Ammons, noting that depictions of gays and lesbians began to disappear from popular culture and the media as soon as Phelps began taking his powerful rallies against homosexuality from state to state. “Fred Phelps devoted his life to one goal, and he triumphed. This was an incredibly influential man who deserved all the attention he received. Think of the legacy he leaves behind: In the past three decades, homosexuality has become practically nonexistent in society.”

Wishful thinking, perhaps, on Farrell’s part?

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Ethical Quote Of The Week: Equality Kansas

“If the reports of Fred Phelps’ declining health are accurate, then his family and friends are certainly saying their good-byes and preparing to mourn his loss. We ask that everyone understand the solemnity of the occasion, and honor the right of his family and friends to remember and mourn his loss in private without interruption or unseemly celebration.”

— Sandra Meade, chairwoman of Equality Kansas, quoted in the group’s press release regarding the reported imminent death of Fred Phelps, whose Westboro Baptist Church specialized in harassing the private funerals of military veterans while hurling any gay slurs.

Protest At Ground ZeroExactly. Seldom has the temptation to yield to tit-for-tat tactics been more powerful. Seldom has the ethical duty to reject that temptation been more clear. Continue reading

Ethics Quiz: What if the Westboro Baptist Church Is Just Kidding?

I know just how you feel, Homer.

This is a unique Ethics Alarms quiz, because I am offering it while having absolutely no idea what the answer is, or even, perhaps, what the right question should be.

The story you can read here describes the Westboro Baptist Church’s interactions with an openly gay DJ. You will recall that the church’s followers have achieved infamy by loudly protesting on the scene of private funerals for military personnel killed in combat, with “God Hates Gays” being one of their signature protest signs. Yet the DJ, when he visited the group, found them to be friendly, unthreatening, civil and kind. They hugged him. The asked him over for dinner.  The surprised and puzzled writer suggests that the Fred Phelps followers’ act may be a form of First Amendment-testing performance art, sort of like Bill Maher. Maybe they aren’t really hateful after all. Maybe they just act that way!

My Ethics Quiz question for you to consider:

Does the fact that they can be kind, tolerant and accepting in the privacy of their abode make the Westboro Baptist Church protesters less unethical, more unethical, or does it make no difference at all? Continue reading

Dancing With Thomas Jefferson: How Assholes Make the Law Spoil Life For Everyone

Coming to a place of honor and reflection near you.

On Saturday, the U.S. Park Police forcefully arrested five “Code Pink” protesters under the dome of the Jefferson Memorial for defying a recent Federal Appeals Court ruling that dancing at federal monuments was not constitutionally protected expression.

Perhaps you missed that ruling earlier this month, which was, I presume, made necessary by the realization that a flash mob could break out at any moment at the Lincoln Memorial or the Alamo. That was not the threat in 2008, however, when Mary Oberwetter was arrested, also at the Thomas Jefferson Memorial, for hoofing to celebrate Thomas Jefferson’s birthday.

She sued the National Park Service for violating her First Amendment rights, and on May 17 the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit held that the Jefferson Memorial should have a “solemn atmosphere” and that dancing, silent or otherwise, was an inappropriate form of expression there. The appellate judges concurred with the lower court that the memorial is “not a public forum,” and thus demonstrators must first obtain a  permit. Demonstrations that require permits in the Park Service’s National Capital region are defined as

“…picketing, speechmaking, marching, holding vigils or religious services and all other like forms of conduct which involve the communication or expression of views or grievances, engaged in by one or more persons, the conduct of which has the effect, intent or propensity to draw a crowd or onlookers. [The] term does not include casual park use by visitors or tourists which does not have an intent or propensity to attract a crowd or onlookers.”

The Appellate Court wrote: Continue reading

From First Amendment Outrage to Ethics Hypothetical: The Westboro Baptist Church vs. Brandon, Miss. Hoax

"Never mind!"

Bulletin: The story about how citizens and law enforcement personnel in Brandon, Miss. foiled the efforts of Fred Phelps’ homophobic Westboro Baptist Church to disrupt the funeral of a serviceman killed in Afghanistan never happened. The source of the hoax is unclear, but an enterprising Stars and Stripes blogger investigated and has determined that it never happened. The Church was never even in Brandon.

I detest fake web stories and the people who create them, as you probably know. The public is  confused enough by reality without having falsehoods, fabrications and hoaxes added to its database. Luckily, this is not a news site, but an ethics site, and my commentary about those who applauded this tale of a community conspiring to rob a group of their U.S. Supreme Court confirmed constitutional rights is as valid as when it was widely assumed that the story was real.

The foiling of Fred Phelps’ gang by “Mississippi Burning” tactics is not only an ethics hypothetical that most people flunked, but also an effective trap to lure the self-righteous into agreeing  that ends justify unethical means as long as the victims of those ends are sufficiently despicable.   This group includes one of the most quoted commentators on the story, who approved of the fictional response by the town and wrote,

“This is a template for how to handle the Westboro people. If lawsuits don’t work, other means will. Whatever it takes to keep them from harassing bereaved military families on the day their fallen loved ones are laid to rest.”

He was wrong then, and he’s wrong now.

Don’t Cheer Mississippi’s Westboro Baptist Tactics Too Loudly: You Never Know Who Might Hear You

"Demonstrators? Just leave them to us."

Sgt. Jason Rogers, who was killed in action in Afghanistan, was buried two weeks ago in Brandon, Mississippi. As is its custom, the Westboro Baptist Church, fresh from U.S. Supreme Court-confirmed constitutional protection, was prepared to sully Sgt. Rogers’ funeral with its usual hateful chants about how God kills our soldiers to punish our sinful, homosexual-loving ways. Its plans were foiled, however, by a little bit of traditional Mississippi social control ingenuity.

A couple of days before the funeral, one of Fred Phelps’ vile cultists boasted about the upcoming protest while visiting a Brandon gas station, and the good citizenry on the scene gave him the sound beating they felt his sentiments warranted. Continue reading

Terry Jones’ Next Irresponsible Protest: Legal? Sure. Stupid? Yes. Ethical? Of Course Not.

We have to permit the stupid demonstrations to protect the important ones.

The latest drama surrounding irresponsible publicity addict, Quran-burner and gonzo Islam-hater Rev. Terry Jones is his attempt to get a permit to demonstrate outside  the Islamic Center of America in Dearborn, Michigan because, well, because it’s there, I guess.  Wayne County and Dearborn officials insist that he pay security costs that they estimate at about $46,000 before he will be allowed to incite more violence and riots overseas. These are a near certainty because a lot of people in other countries can’t understand why the United States lets its citizens say and demonstrate about any fool thing they want to. Continue reading

Ethics Quiz: Who Deserved To Be Fired—Beck or The Duck?

Tough quiz today, ethics fans. Be on your toes!

Our quiz for today: Who most deserved to be fired—Glenn Beck, Gilbert Gottfried (the voice of the Aflac duck),  neither, or both?

The Mad Prophet of Fox, Glenn Beck returned to his radio program with this reflection:

“I’m not saying God is, you know, causing earthquakes. I’m not not saying that either… but there’s a message being sent. And that is, ‘Hey, you know that stuff we’re doing? Not really working out real well. Maybe we should stop doing some of it.’ I’m just saying.”

Yes, Glenn Beck said that the devastation of Japan just may be a message from God. Continue reading

Ethics Heroes: The U.S. Supreme Court

As the perfect tonic for all the attempts to silence Gilbert and Sullivan songs with controversial lyrics, reject bus ads espousing controversial positions, and declare that words like “target” are just too darn inflammatory for the sensitive, politically-correct ears of CNN viewers, here comes the U.S. Supreme Court, galloping to the rescue with a near unanimous (8-1), ringing reaffirmation that free speech is a bastion of American democracy, even when the speaker or speakers are vicious, unfair, cruel, radical and deluded. Continue reading