When the news broke yesterday that Fred Phelps and his infamous "God Hates Fags" Westboro Baptist Church would be protesting the funeral of Penn State football coach Joe Paterno for his role in the Jerry Sandusky sexual abuse cases, some of Paterno's harshest critics approved. They think the disruptive presence of Fred Phelps' evil minions, shouting nonsensical passages from Leviticus as some sort of posthumous justice for Paterno's complicity with Sandusky sexually molesting young boys. But there's a difference between the evil that's perceived and real, diabolical evil, and he's not the one being put in the ground.
Remember: Fred Phelps has lead a life devoted to proselytizing against gay men and lesbians, churning up hate against them, and justifying the homophobia that already exists in society. He has done it for decades and will probably do it until he dies. Joe Paterno is a man who made a grievous mistake. The first line of his obituary is marked by his part in the scandal. History will remember him, not as a coach, but a coach who lost his job as a result of his negligence.
On the surface, the sentiment makes sense to some-that Joe Paterno's self-serving silence will result in eternal damnation. Fred's shrieking harridan daughter Margie Phelps' comically outrageous Tweets about JoePa being in hell is echoed by people on Internet message boards like Yahoo Answers and IGN. But just because you thought what Paterno did was awful doesn't mean you want to have a Happy Valley tailgate showed up at the funeral of gay hate crime victim Matthew Shepard.
The Westboro Baptist Church, the group that runs the website GodHatesFags.com, believes that every ill that befalls modern society is due to homosexuality. That is why they started protesting the funerals of soldiers who died in Iraq and Afghanistan, not to protest the unjust wars, but to punish America for allowing Neil Patrick Harris on television. They've protested everyone from Michael Jackson and Joe Paterno to actual children, like one of the 9-year-old victims of last year's Tuscon shooting. Phelps and his legion of brainwashed brimstone drinkers are protesting that gay people are even allowed to lawfully exist in America today.
If your enemy is Joe Paterno and you believe he needs to be punished-by-funeral-protest, go right ahead. Just make sure you're not standing next to the lunatics with the rainbow-colored sandwich boards condemning him to hell. Because Joe Paterno is not Fred Phelps' enemy. Gay people are.