Category Archives: Citizenship

Cruel Activism: The Gay Rights Attack On Cynthia and Robert Gifford

The-Gifford-Barn-in-Schaghticoke-NY

It is said that close cases make bad law, and they often make bad ethics too. Legally, the culpability of Cynthia and Robert Gifford is not at all certain. Ethically, however, as right as they may be on the law, the conduct of their persecutors, same-sex couple Jennifer McCarthy and Melisa Erwin, has been unnecessary, without compassion, vindictive and cruel.

The Giffords are active Christians who own Liberty Ridge Farm, located in Schaghticoke in upstate New York. They supplement the farm’s revenue with attractions designed for kids and families, including a pumpkin patch, a corn stalk maze and a rustic barn for parties and weddings. That rustic barn has three stories. The Giffords reside on the top floor, with the bottom floor designed for events, and the second floor consisting of rooms for activities relating to their preparation and management.

When Cynthia Gifford received a phone call from Melissa McCarthy inquiring about having her wedding at the farm, Cynthia invited her to visit and assess the venue.In the follow-up phone call, McCarthy revealed for the first time that the affair would be a same-sex wedding. Cynthia explained that the family’s faith held that marriages can only be a union of a man and a woman, so they did not make their farm available for ceremonies. She said, however, that the couple was welcome to hold the wedding reception there.

Apparently expecting this response, Jennifer and Melissa surreptitiously recorded the phone call. Armed with the recording, they contacted the New York Civil Liberties Union who immediately filed a discrimination lawsuit against the Giffords on their behalf.

The Giffords argue that this was not a matter of discrimination, but religious practice. They had hosted events for gay clients before, and employed gays. “The Giffords’ objection was to hosting and participating in the wedding ceremony itself and not to providing service in general to lesbians,” their lawyer said.

They lost. Bronx administrative Law Judge Migdalia Pares rejected Giffords’ claim that the farm, which is also their home, is not a place of public accommodation and is therefore not subject to the anti-discrimination provisions of New York’s Human Rights Law. She ruled that Liberty Ridge qualifies as a public accommodation because it regularly collects fees for space, facilities, services and meals, so it cannot be considered “distinctly private.”  The fact that the Giffords reside at Gifford Barn does not render it private. The Giffords were ordered to pay $13,000 in fines and restitution.

The Giffords are appealing.

The Giffords, according to the judge, “unlawfully discriminated against complainants solely on the basis of their sexual orientation.” Another way of looking at it is that Jennifer and Melissa, now married, discriminated against the Giffords solely on the basis of their religious beliefs. Why couldn’t they agree to respect the Giffords’ religious beliefs, and use the property for the wedding reception only, having the actual ceremony elsewhere? Would that really be such a hardship, or a compromise in principles? Indeed, if the nation and committed progressives really aspire to tolerance, diversity and mutual compassion and understanding, why wouldn’t that be the ethical, desirable, reasonable compromise?

I know the response to that question, of course. This was a matter of principle. This would send a message. Crushing the Giffords was necessary to show that all opposition to same sex marriage would eventually be crushed under the advance of history. Never mind that these were not anti-gay bigots, and that they have as much right to practice their faith as a lesbian couple has a right to wed. This is a zero sum game, apparently. Besides the law—probably–supports McCarthy and Erwin.

I think the actions of Jennifer McCarthy and Melisa Erwin violate the Second Niggardly Principle, which is a rule of kindness, compromise and common sense. It holds…

“When an individual or group can accomplish its legitimate objectives without engaging in speech or conduct that will offend individuals whose basis for the supposed offense is emotional, mistaken or ignorant, but is not malicious and is based on well-established impulses of human nature, it is unethical to intentionally engage in such speech or conduct.”

The couple’s legitimate objectives in this case were to get married and celebrate the marriage in an attractive venue. I don’t think setting out to punish a couple for belonging to a religion that doesn’t accept same sex marriage is a legitimate objective, nor is turning their lives upside down, nor forcing them into the maw of litigation to bend them to their will. Does the gay rights movement really feel that all those who have not yet accepted the justice and inevitability of same-sex marriage must be exposed and made to suffer? It seems that this is McCarthy and  Erwin believe, and what this case will come to stand for.

If so, I think the story of the Giffords will do more harm than good, hardening opposition, confirming suspicion, undermining trust and ultimately making acceptance for gay couples harder, however it turns out in the courts. Just because you have the law on your side doesn’t mean you have to use it when doing so involves unnecessary harm to others. Gays want compassion, kindness, tolerance and fairness. It would help if they showed a willingness to give as well as receive.

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Pointer: Steven Mark Pilling

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Filed under Business & Commercial, Charity, Citizenship, Family, Gender and Sex, Government & Politics, Law & Law Enforcement, Religion and Philosophy, Rights, Romance and Relationships, U.S. Society

Now THIS Is An Abuse Of Police Power

The trooper is on to something...it is amazing how persuasive a sermon can be when it's backed up by a gun...

The trooper is on to something…it is amazing how persuasive a sermon can be when it’s backed up by a gun…

According to the complaint filed in a U.S. District Court, Indiana State Trooper Brian Hamilton stopped Ellen Bogan to give her a ticket,proceeded to grill her on whether she had yet accepted Jesus Christ as her savior, and then gave her a pamphlet to help her see the light.

Quite reasonably, Ms Bogan felt coerced and was ready to swear that she had the Bible tattooed on her back if hse had to get away from the Preacher Policeman After the prolonged stop, Trooper Hamilton said “God bless you,” which was nice, and then went on to find other motorists to proselytize at gunpoint.

This is what the First Amendment to the Constitution is concerned about when it prohibits the state from interfering with citizens’ free exercise of religion. It’s wonderful that Trooper Hamilton is a good Baptist and all, but he is in the wrong line of work, and needs to have a forced occupation change immediately. A badge doesn’t give him the right to use his authority as a police officer to bully motorists into endorsing his favorite brand of Christianity. In fact, the badge, the gun and the nature of his employer take that right away from him while he’s working.

__________________________

Pointer: Fred.

 

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Filed under Citizenship, Government & Politics, Law & Law Enforcement, Religion and Philosophy, Rights

“Borderism” And The Ethics Of Circulating Stupid Ideas

"Certainly sir! We'd be honored to publish your opinion piece in the Washington Post! We welcome new ideas, whatever they may be!"

“Certainly sir! We’d be honored to publish your opinion piece in the Washington Post! We welcome new ideas, whatever they may be!”

For some reason I’m not certain I’d be happy to discover, some editor at the Washington Post thinks what our world needs at this disturbing moment in time is a new form of injustice to address, one that most of us never considered an injustice at all. Thus that helpful editor decided to give a megaphone to someone named , whom, we are told, is chief information officer of an NGO in Guatemala that promotes local governance in developing countries. This is itself interesting, because it provides a hint regarding why it is that developing countries have such a hard time developing. For Mr. , by the evidence of his opinion piece, deemed worthy of publication in a prestigious newspaper, is bats.

Essentially, his essay “Losing the Birth Lottery” asserts that life is unfair, so the only ethical thing to do is to make life chaotic and unfair. feels that it’s really, really mean that the United States doesn’t guarantee the same rights of U.S. citizens to every human being on earth, and insists that its refusing to do so is the moral equivalent of racism. He helpfully suggests the term “borderism” as the name for this heinous attitude, and writes:

“One could certainly argue that racial discrimination is worse than borderism because it excludes people from opportunities within their own countries. But how much worse? Many aspiring immigrants are born into nations where jobs are nonexistent, corruption is rife and indiscriminate violence plagues daily life. Being legally segregated into poverty and tyranny because of one’s ancestry is a cruel fate, regardless whether it’s because of race or citizenship.”

Continue reading

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Filed under Around the World, Citizenship, Government & Politics, Journalism & Media, Law & Law Enforcement, U.S. Society

Finally There’s Name For The Conduct I’ve Been Calling Unethical For Years…Now Let’s Agree To Stop It

eclipse

That name is “partyism.”

From Harvard Professor Cass Sunstein:

“…party prejudice in the U.S. has jumped, infecting not only politics but also decisions about dating, marriage and hiring. By some measures, “partyism” now exceeds racial prejudice — which helps explain the intensity of some midterm election campaigns. In 1960, 5 percent of Republicans and 4 percent of Democrats said that they would feel “displeased” if their son or daughter married outside their political party. By 2010, those numbers had reached 49 percent and 33 percent. Republicans have been found to like Democrats less than they like people on welfare or gays and lesbians. Democrats dislike Republicans more than they dislike big business.”

Based on what I’ve seen, the fact that Republicans/conservatives  are nearly twice as likely to be “partyists”  as their hated enemies to the left on the political spectrum doesn’t surprise me. Most of the manifestations of the bigotry I’ve seen out in the open and written about here—restaurants that give discounts to praying customers and bars that claim that they will only serve “red voters”—have come from that sector, but 33 percent isn’t anything for liberals to be proud of, either. Over all, the trend is horrible for the country. As I wrote regarding “Mary’s,” the restaurant that favored its religious customers…

“I detest this kind of thing, and so should you, because it is ethically indefensible and un-American to the core….splitting the world into them and us, good guys and bad guys, the virtuous and the reviled. All of “Mary’s” customers are human beings, and that is the only thing that should matter in the United States of America.”

I confess that since I have been observing this phenomenon, I am preconditioned to think the Stanford research that purported to measure it as has validity. Most social science research, especially involving politics, is so skewed by researcher bias and agendas that it is inherently dubious, and perhaps this example is too: I wouldn’t rely on the percentages. Also 1960 would have to be the absolute low water mark in U.S. political passions, after the remarkably non-partisan, unifying two terms of Dwight Eisenhower while the public felt united against a common enemy in the Cold War. I’m guessing the numbers in, say, 1860 would show a sharper divide.

I do think that the intensity of emotion, rising to bigotry, distrust and hate, in the nation’s political polarization is growing, is very alarming, and dangerous to our health and future. I’d like to know more about where it resides. Is the bulk of the bigotry coming from the low-information voter, who uncritically absorbs every campaign smear, bumper sticker insult and Facebook meme as fact—you know, morons? Or are the individuals who would rather die than see their daughters marry men who oppose the family’s favorite party the narrow-minded political junkies who watch only Fox News and listen to Rush, or who cheer Al, Chris, Rachel and the 24-7 conservative-bashers on MSNBC? I’d like to know.

Naturally theories will abound regarding the reasons for this new bigotry. In a general sense, it is pure cognitive dissonance, and can be explained by people today caring more about politics and ideology than they have for quite a while. People care about something when they sense that it matters to their lives, health and welfare, as well as those around them: if political views were regarded as no more important than what baseball team one rooted for, there is no way substantive bigotry would attach to them. With foreign threats looming, the economy weak, nobody certain of the right policies in so many crucial areas and the pettiness, corruption and ineptitude of parties in and out of power, trust has plummeted. When we can’t trust those whom we have given the job of looking out for our welfare, we become worried and scared, as well we should. Then it makes sense to care more about politics. If we care more, and feel strongly about what should be done either out of a lack of sophistication and gullibility (the morons) or from unbalanced self-education (the zealots), then those who proclaim opposing views seem more obnoxious and more threatening, prompting active discrimination. The Stanford study found that “discrimination against the out-group is based more on out-group animus than in-group favoritism.” That figures. But for a nation, it is suicidal.

This nation of ideals gleaned from a diverse population must value trust and belief in what all citizens share more than it embraces passion and anger over what we disagree over. If we cherish the basic principles of democracy, then we must accept, encourage and respect dissent, frank speech, the shocking opinion and the minority view.  We must always keep our minds open to new ideas, different solutions to old problems, and the possibility that we, or the public officials, scholars and pundits we favor, may be wrong on any one topic or issue. If we can’t do that, we doom ourselves and our culture to self-righteousness, doctrine, cant  and rigidity, which block out enlightenment like an eclipse blocks sunlight. Continue reading

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Filed under Character, Citizenship, Etiquette and manners, Government & Politics, Journalism & Media, Leadership, Research and Scholarship, U.S. Society

Ethics Quote of the Week: Ken White of Popehat

First Amendment“…Our freedoms are recognized or denied based on court rulings. Our understanding of those court rulings often derives from media coverage of them. When we do a lousy job of covering law, or when we put up with journalists doing so, we’re doing a lousy job as citizens.”

—-Attorney-Blogger Ken White, after meticulously exposing how the media, old and new, completely misrepresented a Texas court’s striking down  an overly broad statute as protecting “upskirt” photographs.

Ken White has delivered another masterpiece, expertly debunking the news media’s criminally ignorant analysis of a Texas Court opinion. I must admit, when I saw the headline “Texas Court: Ban on ‘Upskirt’ Photos Violates First Amendment Rights” and its ilk around the web, I just assumed that reporters were being sensational and dumb as usual, and moved on to other things. Thank goodness Ken was on the case, and properly flagged the danger in lawyers reacting this way. We have a tendency as a profession to think, “Well, there they go again, completely misunderstanding the law, poor dears” when we should be working overtime to set the record straight. I admonish my seminar attendees for doing this regarding the public’s distorted view of legal ethics, and fell into the same trap myself.

Ken’s dissection of the flat-out wrong reporting on this case is frightening: it is clear that most reporters are incapable of understanding what court opinions mean, yet there they are, writing nonsense and making the public more ignorant, not to mention making them think taking upskirt photographs is legal and constitutionally protected.

Counselor White has had a busy year that has kept him from providing his usual volume of daily enlightenment. He is back in top form, and we should all be grateful.

 

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Filed under Citizenship, Government & Politics, Journalism & Media, Law & Law Enforcement, Rights, The Internet

The Blackstone Horror And The Duty To Care

"You know your house is really messy when..."

“You know your house is really messy when…”

We have been discussing, of late, the ethical duty of strangers to intervene when they get the sense that something may not be right and an individual, especially a child, may be at risk of harm. Doing this involves its own risk: being wrong. Causing embarrassment to yourself and others. Being accused of being racist, or a busybody, or a meddler.

This is what can happen when no body cares enough to take that risk.

I am in Rhode Island, having come from Boston, where a nightmarish story is obsessing the radio talk shows:

Police were setting the record straight as to how many times they’ve responded over the years to the Blackstone, Massachusetts, house of squalor, where three dead infants were discovered among piles of trash, dead animals, feces and vermin last week, as clean-up at the condemned house finally finished up Tuesday.Four children who lived in the house – a 5-month-old baby, a 3-year-old toddler, a 10-year-old boy and 13-year-old girl – have all since been removed by Massachusetts Department of Children and Families.

Their mother, 31-year-old Erika Murray, is behind bars. She’s pleaded not guilty to charges of child endangerment and fetal death concealment. Her boyfriend, and alleged father of the children, Raymond Rivera, claims he stayed in the basement. He’s only been charged with marijuana offenses at this point.

I’ll have plenty of links at the end so you can read the details of this disgusting story, if you have the stomach for it. Obviously it’s not ethical to have your children living in a home with dirty diapers are piled two feet high and dead pets are stuffed in corners. Obviously it’s not ethical to father kids, live in the basement, and ignore the squalor your children are being raised in. Obviously the parents in this case are mentally ill, or approaching evil. From the perspective of this blog, the parents’ conduct has nothing to teach anyone who isn’t demented. I am interested in the neighbors’ conduct, or rather their lack of it. Continue reading

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Filed under Childhood and children, Citizenship, Daily Life, Law & Law Enforcement

Americans Opine On Abortion: Thank You, USA Today, Now I Know Why We’re Doomed

Blindfolded-People

USA Today fashions itself as the newspaper of the average American, and it may well be true. Especially since its redesign, it contains less substance than a single section of the New York Times, pedestrian writing, and mostly bite-size features designed for an audience with an attention span that finds fortune cookies challenging. Every now and then, however, a bit like Family Feud, USA Today’s proud low brow style yields valuable insight. Yesterday’s feature on abortion was such an instance, as the paper gathered reader comments on its Facebook and Twitter locales for America’s opinion regarding Missouri’s new mandated three-day waiting period for women seeking an abortion.

Now that I have reviewed the responses, it all makes sense to me now, and I think I know where we are headed. Oh, there is no valuable insight regarding the measure or abortion among the comments. What is revealing is that among all the responses chosen by USA Today, not single reader could manage sufficient objectivity and critical thinking to produce  well-reasoned, fair, thoughtful insight regarding a public policy issue that demands measuring and balancing interests, values,  and outcomes, the essence of ethical decision-making. Not one.

Here they are, with my comments in bold: Continue reading

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Filed under Citizenship, Education, Gender and Sex, Government & Politics, Journalism & Media, Law & Law Enforcement, Quotes, Religion and Philosophy, The Internet, U.S. Society