I was… how can I say this… rather delighted to hear the news that after protesting at the funeral of Sgt. Jason James McCluskey in Oklahoma, members of the Westboro Baptists found their tyres slashed and couldn’t find anyone to repair them. If you don’t know who these people are, this is one of the more well-known interviews. It’s one of the few times I’ve agreed with a Fox News contributor.
Don’t get me wrong, I hate Fred Phelps and his deranged family. I’d even go so far as to put him on the crotch-kicking list (btw Glenn Beck’s now on it after this lunacy – I think that puts us up to 5 so I guess I’d better write it out and stick it on my wall). But I don’t think it’s controversial to say that slashing the tyres was wrong. It’s property damage, it’s definitely unlawful (although I’m surprised they can find lawyers to fight their cases) and it’s in poor taste. PZ Myers brings up the point that they have a a right to freedom of speech, but I think that’s irrelevant, whoever slashed their tyres wasn’t stopping them saying the odious things that they said. If anything they were responding with a little free expression of their own, but in an illegal and morally wrong way.
But what about the mechanic who refused to repair their car? Was he wrong? Anti-discrimination laws generally say that we can’t refuse service to people based on their age, sex, race, sexuality, religious belief etc. Does this come under that? Am I legally obliged to serve a racist, for example? Would a black person be obliged to?
As you may know, I work part time in a bar to put myself through uni. There was an incident a couple of years ago that I still remember vividly, even though it’s one amongst many. A Yorkshireman in his 50’s came into the bar, ordered a pint and we were having a bit of pleasant conversation when more or less in the middle of his sentence, he came out with this:
Him: You know what, son? You’re not very intelligent.
Me: What’s that?
Him: You heard. Some people are born to serve and some people are born to be served.
Me: (taking the half-pint left in his glass away) Well I think you’d better leave.
Him: Give me the brass back then.
Me: (after a moment’s thought, I threw the rest of his pint into his face) There’s your brass, now get out.
Now was I wrong here? I don’t think so. Maybe throwing the pint into his face was overreacting a bit, but he was trying to insult me, trying to provoke a response, so he shouldn’t have been surprised when he got what he was looking for. Should I be obliged to serve someone who insults me? Now as we all know the management reserves the right to refuse service to anyone, but it wasn’t so long ago that you’d see signs outside bars saying “No blacks, no Irish”. That’s obviously wrong.
So what’s the difference? We can draw the line in one of several places. If you look at the things that anti-discrimination laws include, only one thing on the list is something that you can choose, and that’s religious belief. You don’t choose what sex you are or what race you are, but you can choose what your religion is. Why are religious positions given any more protection than any other position you might hold? Maybe religious beliefs shouldn’t be included in the list of things you can’t base discrimination on.
Now I think discrimination on the basis of religious belief is wrong. But I also don’t give religious beliefs any more respect than any other, so should I be obliged to serve a racist? Maybe each belief should be judged on its own merits, regardless of whether it’s deemed religious or not, and if it’s harmful, or likely to lead to a harmful action, then you can discriminate on that basis.
Or maybe we shouldn’t discriminate on any kind of belief, and only treat people differently based on their actions. But sometimes actions are a part of a belief or another protected group. For example, hotels can’t refuse to put up gay couples because they don’t like what they do, but a landlord can refuse to let their property out to a smoker.
It’s a hazy issue. Anyway I probably would have given them their fricking tyres, on the basis that not doing so would only serve to reinforce their persecution complex and help convince them that they’re right. But they’d get a big earful from me while I was at it.