Ethics Quiz: “The Graduate” Variation—Illegal Yet Ethical?

Except in THIS version of "The Graduate," it's Benjamin Braddock's MOTHER banging on the window. Come to think of it, Dustin Hoffman couild play her, too!

For your weekend Ethics Quiz, Ethics Alarms asks your assessment of a situation that may be that rarity, conduct that is illegal but ethical, by far the rarest in the spectrum that is…

Legal and EthicalLegal and Unethical—Illegal and EthicalIllegal and Unethical

In Nevada, Justin Lew Harris’ wedding at the Carson Valley United Methodist Church was underway when his mother burst on the scene, Dustin Hoffman-style, and loudly objected to the ceremony. As she protested, Harris physically carried her out of the church, which constitutes battery. Mom’s tactic worked, though: that stopped the wedding, at least for now.

Now Harris, 35, faces misdemeanor charges  for disorderly conduct and coercion, presumably being pressed by his loving mother. He was released from the Douglas County Jail on his own recognizance.

No doubt about it: his conduct was pretty clearly against the law. But was it ethical?

And thus your Ethics Quiz question: Is it fair and responsible to use physical force to stop a disruption of one’s own wedding, presuming that Harris didn’t do anything more than carry his mother out, and didn’t throw her into traffic or a trash compacter or something?

My answer: Absolutely. NOT doing it would have been unethical.

Especially once Mom started swinging that cross….

"Hello Darkness, my old friend...."

23 thoughts on “Ethics Quiz: “The Graduate” Variation—Illegal Yet Ethical?

  1. I agree with your assessment, but I’m actually a little bit concerned that simply carrying someone out of a room can constitute assault.

  2. I’m not concerned about that. I’m concerned about the fact that the cops and the media are now in a position in which…

    1) the cops didn’t dopeslap the mother for being such a putz, and
    2) the cops actually arrested the guy, probably due to some arcane PC protocol, and
    3) it got reported, courtesy of a police-beat reporter (no ethical violation there – no doubt some kid doing what he/she was told) and an editor (big ethical violation – he/she chose to run a stupid story like this, because he/she knew it would end up on blogs like this).

    • 1. And WHAT kind of blog is it that runs “stupid stories”? HMMMM???
      2. There ARE no blogs like this!
      3. I feel very sorry for the guy, but this doesn’t happen every day, at least in MY neighborhood.. Come on…with all those sitcom “speak now or forever hold your peace” plots, the editor HAD to run with this!

      • “1. And WHAT kind of blog is it that runs “stupid stories”? HMMMM???”

        Don’t over-parse, Jack. Read on.

        “2. There ARE no blogs like this!”

        The word “this” was not being used as a pronoun, specific to THIS blog, but rather as an adjective, describing a characteristic. My, but you’ve got a thin skin sometimes.

        “3. I feel very sorry for the guy, but this doesn’t happen every day, at least in MY neighborhood.. Come on…with all those sitcom “speak now or forever hold your peace” plots, the editor HAD to run with this!”

        In today’s media environment, sadly, you’re probably correct. A generation ago, a story like this would have probably been spiked. Today, with declining readerships and viewerships, there’s an increasing tendency to highlight the tawdry and the embarrassing. Goes without saying that editors are after page views, and if a story gets crossposted into the blogosphere, so much the better – because responsible bloggers always link back to original source, giving said source a click count that moves upwards.

        p.s. – you DID notice, didn’t you, that I criticized neither your choice to run with this story or your conclusion…? I questioned the ethics of the news reports.. and maybe the cops for not dealing with this a bit more old-skool.

        • Arthur, Arthur, Arthur. You didn’t really think I was serious in my first two comments, did you? Really? Are people so conditioned to relying on emoticons that even the obviously facetious can’t be detected without them? OOOHHH CURSE YOU, SMILEY FACE.(DISCLAIMER: I’m not really mad at Smiley Face.)

          • Yep, really did. I’ve noted a propensity for defensiveness in your responses, and that’s what it looked like here. Sorry for misconstruing.

            (I, for one, think Smiley Face should meet a fate similar to Qadaffi’s.)

            • Me? Defensive? How dare you say I”m defensive!!! ARGHHHHH!!! I’ll fight to the death to prove I’m not defensive! People keep attacking me, that’s all! You’re all against me..that’s IT, isn’t it??? ISN’T IT?

              Ok, now this is an exercise to reduce your need for emoticons! I was mocking my own propensity to be defensive, as in the earlier response to you. Boy, I would have never thought that the side effect of me getting defensive would be commenters getting hyper-defensive when I make fun of getting defensive…

              …though I’m really not defensive. Really.

  3. Did he do something illegal? If his mother was not invited, she was trespassing. Couldn’t Justin (I’ve had enough of formality for today) use reasonable force to get his mother out (now I have to wonder whether the fact that he didn’t own the church disqualifies him from excluding trespassers and whether “renting” the church for a wedding constitutes a lease, or merely makes you a licensee)? We’ll have to see what the judge decides. Assuming his force was reasonable (which I would think would include force that does not cause any injury), I don’t think Justin did something unethical. If he did cause his mother injury, then I would think that what he did was unethical (he would have been better to call the police to have her removed). Very minor injuries would be borderline.

    • I don’t think it should matter whether or not he caused injury, only whether or not his response,and it’s likely consequences, were proportionate.

      • You’re right—it doesn’t. He’s not the police; there’s no self-defense; he’s using the Church, not living or working there. The second he touches her and moves her, he’s broken the law. She wouldn’t have to press charges, and shouldn’t in a case like this, but she is clearly nuts. I’m trying to find out if the wedding ever occurred.

        • I was referring to the ethics of the question being dependent on the outcome. Legally, I would hope there is an exception (or a defense) for removing uninvited people from a private function without excessive force.

          • I don’t think there is. And yes, the ethics of the matter doesn’t change according to the result, though if the original intent is to harm or humiliate rather than just remove, that changes the nature of the act.

            • I agree that the ethics of the exclusion do not depend on the legality of the son’s actions. I only brought up legality because I have a nonexistent knowledge of Nevada law and was curious.

  4. I’d just repeat what everyone’s said so far. It’s just a harsh fact of life that we can’t choose our relatives… to include a mother who’s also a fruitcake. We CAN, however, choose our wife. Some moms just can’t handle that! But how, in God’s name, does merely carrying a crazed, disruptive woman out of a church wedding ceremony constitute “assault”? I hate to think what he would have been charged with if he’d warmed the seat of her britches with birdshot! Many men wouldn’t have hesitated under the circumstances!!

  5. I agree with the assessment, Jack. What I don’t agree with is the statement that the editor was unethical for allowing the story. Once police are involved, it becomes newsworthy. Some newspapers decline to write about arrests unless a felony is involved. Others will include lessor charges if the angle is interesting, which this episode surely is. Is it hard news? No. But anytime police and courts are involved, you are talking about taxpayer funded institutions and people want to know what they are being used for. The story also provides a glimpse into the crazy situations police sometimes find themselves involved in. Arthur is correct, however, when he said that a story like this would lead to more hits on the newspaper’s web page. I see nothing wrong with this. The story is legitimate and a newspaper is a business.

  6. Just guessing here … but if the son had done nothing and let the mother rant while someone called the police to have her arrested for trespassing, disturbing the peace or any other charges as appropriate, the wedding could have taken place once she had been removed. The ceremony would still have been ruined (by the crazed mother). The groom clearly did the right thing by taking his mother out of the church. Anything less would have been insulting to his bride and the guests. I question the necessity of charging him with a crime, however, if the mother was unharmed. Did the police REALLY need to book him for removing a loony bin from his wedding ceremony? What ever happened to discretion? As for posting the story on this blog – it’s all over the Internet, so why not discuss it here as well?

  7. I know that I am late to the party on this conversation buuuuutttt…. this story isn’t entirely accurate. Yes, he was originally charged with battery but the updated story was posted on 10/20/2011 that said it was dropped to coercion and disorderly conduct. The truth of the entire story is posted on and if you google his name, Justin Lew Harris, you will find the actual whole story. That is the newspaper from the town we grew up in… why is this important in 2020? Justin Lew Harris (43), died 11/30/2019 and the truth got so distorted in this case that Googling his name, brings up sooo many articles and it got “worldwide” coverage, I even since I saw something from Jamaica…he and I did just that on the night that he died holding me in his arms, he told me the story and told me the truth. Our tiny town newspaper is the only one that I have read that actually got it right. Everywhere else, twist it just a little bit. This is just the start of media taking a story and running with it and why the media is such shit in 2020! Simply, media can’t be trusted anymore because of plagiarism rules, you can’t just copy a story word for word so you have to twist and tweak it, just enough to make it your own. Even Inside Edition twisted it but Justin didn’t care anymore by that point. They actually paid for his wedding to eventually take place… lmao, oops, the wedding only lasted a few months though. She was a horrible. horrible woman.

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