Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 4/15/2019: Patriots Day! Jackie Robinson Day!

Good morning!

It’s funny: over at Ann Althouse’s blog, she’s complaining about how there’s nothing to write about. From an ethics perspective, I am finding too much to write about, especially since, unlike Ann, I still have to work for a living.

1. Quick: what does Patriots Day commemorate (and no, it’s not Tom Brady)? My home state of Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maine (which was once part of the Bay State), and Wisconsin observe the holiday, which honors the twin battles of Lexington and Concord, the confrontations with the British (on April 19, 1775, the day after “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere”) that launched the Revolutionary War. I visited both battlefields more times than I could count when I was living in Arlington, Mass., right next to Lexington. That battlefield, what’s left of it, is in the middle of busy streets on all sides; it’s hard to imagine the scene as described in the song above from “1776.” Concord’s battlefield, in contrast, is almost exactly as it was in 1775.

All the publicity, even in Boston, about today will be dominated by the running of the Boston Marathon, but attention should be paid to the inspiring story of how ragtag groups of volunteers faced off against the trained soldiers of the most powerful country on Earth, sending the message that this rebellion would not be so easy to put down.  49 Colonists died, 39 were wounded, and five were unaccounted for. The British lost 73, while 174 were wounded,and 26 were missing.

2. It’s also Jackie Robinson Day. In every MLB game today, every player will wear Jackie’s number 42. The best way to honor Jackie for the rest of us is to tell his story to someone who doesn’t know who Jackie Robinson was, and it is shocking how many such people there are. The film “42” does an excellent job of dramatizing how Jackie broke the color barrier in baseball, simultaneously weakening segregation everywhere. The Ethics Alarms post about Robinson is here. Continue reading

Comment Of The Day: “Ethics Observations On The Masterpiece Cake Shop Decision”

How refreshing it is, while at least half the pundits and journalists are misrepresenting the Masterpiece Bakery decision to the public, to read an Ethics Alarms comment that both clarifies Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion’s flaws and also highlights an important issue that only the routinely-derided Justice Thomas focused on.

As it happens, I disagree with Thomas that a custom wedding cake for a gay wedding is  necessarily “compelled speech.” What is it saying? If it can’t be reasonably interpreted to express a position that can be fairly attributed to the baker, then it’s the customer’s speech, not the baker’s. I know there are cases where sign-makers and others have been upheld in their refusal to reproduce messages they personally find offensive. We saw a hint of that in the silly “Summa ___ Laude” cake fiasco. My position is that a business that creates a setting for speech by others should have no right to interfere with that message—hateful messages, obscene messages, it shouldn’t matter. It should be no more acceptable for a sign-maker to say “I won’t make that sign” than for a cabbie to say, “I won’t drive to that address,” or a haberdashery to refuse to let you buy a suit that makes you look fat.

Here is Glenn Logan’s excellent Comment of the Day on the post, Ethics Observations On The Masterpiece Cake Shop Decision:

Justice Thomas, in his partial concurrence:

“Ac­cording to the individual respondents, Colorado can com­pel Phillips’ speech to prevent him from “‘denigrat[ing] the dignity’” of same-sex couples, “‘assert[ing] [their] inferiority,’” and subjecting them to “‘humiliation, frustration, and embarrassment.’” Brief for Respondents Craig et al. 39 (quoting J. E. B. v. Alabama ex rel. T. B., 511 U. S. 127, 142 (1994); Heart of Atlanta Motel, Inc. v. United States, 379 U. S. 241, 292 (1964) (Goldberg, J., concurring)). These justifications are completely foreign to our free-speech jurisprudence.

States cannot punish protected speech because some group finds it offensive, hurtful, stigmatic, unreasonable, or undignified. “If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable. Johnson, supra, at 414. A contrary rule would allow the govern­ment to stamp out virtually any speech at will.”

This is the opinion that should’ve carried the day. In fact, Kennedy’s opinion is a blatant special pleading, fallacious on it’s face when he claimed the CCRC disparaged Phillips’ position. Even if I allow the comments made by some CCRC members do in fact disparage Phillips’ religion, the law makes it clear that religion is inoperative as a defense against its requirements anyway. How, then, can hostility to religion matter one jot or tittle, and isn’t such expression protected in its own right? The CCRC needed not show the least deference to Phillips’ religion, because the law that creates it manifestly doesn’t: Continue reading

Ethics Observations On The Masterpiece Cake Shop Decision

The Supreme Court ruled today in favor of Jack Phillips, the Christian baker in Colorado who refused to bake a custom wedding cake for a same-sex couple. The Court  found that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission infringed on Phillips’s rights in ruling that he violated the Colorado anti-discrimination law barring merchants from refusing service based on race, sex, marital status, or sexual orientation. The ruling is narrow; it does not empower merchants to deny service based on sexual orientation.  It is based entirely on  the Colorado Civil Rights Commission’s  hostility toward Phillips’s religious views in ruling against him.

Observations:

1. Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor were the only dissenting votes, meaning that the decision was 7-2, and not a “conservative vs liberal” outcome. Even the dissent is based on narrow legal and factual distinctions rather than ideological ones.

2. Read the opinion, and the dissent. Also, if you really want to impress your friends, access the resources available here.

3. These statements from Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion, cited by Justice Ginsberg, help clarify matters in the right legal and ethical direction:

  • “[I]t is a general rule that [religious and philosophical] objections do not allow business owners and other actors in the economy and in society to deny protected persons equal access to goods and services under a neutral and generally applicable public accommodations law.”
  • “Colorado law can protect gay persons, just as it can protect other classes of individuals, in acquiring whatever products and services they choose on the same terms and conditions as are offered to other members of the public.”
  • “[P]urveyors of goods and services who object to gay marriages for moral and religious reasons [may not] put up signs saying ‘no goods or services will be sold if they will be used for gay marriages.’ ”

The ruling could have hardly been less of a ringing endorsement of either “side.”

4. To which I say, “Good.” As I wrote the last time this case was discussed here,
Continue reading

#MeToo Ethics Fiasco In Colorado: The Vengeful Frankened Democrat

That’s Steve on the left, Faith on the right…

Colorado legislators last week voted overwhelmingly to kick out State Representative Steve Lebsock, a Democrat, after five women had accused him of eleven total instances of sexual harassment. To say Lebsock did not go gentle into that good night is an understatement.

One of the accusers was a colleague and fellow Democrat, Rep. Faith Winter, who claimed that Lebsock “acted aggressively” toward her when she turned down his sexual advances during an end-of-session party in 2016. She claimed that he grabbed her elbow, causing her to feel threatened. Lebsock denies the allegations of all of the women, and claimed that he was being railroaded out of his seat to help his accuser, Winter, win a state Senate seat in November. So vigorous was Lebsock in his defiance that two other Democrats, Assistant House Majority Leader Rep. Alec Garnett and Rep. Matt Gray, announced in speeches that they had been wearing bulletproof vests in the chamber for weeks in response to his threats.

No, Steve Lebsock didn’t order a hit. He was more creative. To enact his revenge on his party for making him Colorado’s Al Franken, he formally switched his party registration from Democrat to Republican just minutes before the state House expelled him. As a result, Republicans, rather than Lebsock’s original party, get to fill the vacancy left by Lebsock’s expulsion.

Of course, nothing says that the Colorado GOP couldn’t treat this technical maneuver as the petty payback it is, and in the interests of comity and fairness, let Democrats choose who will fill Lebsock’s seat by allowing Democratic governor John Hickenlooper to appoint his replacement.  Nah!  Colorado Republican Party Chairman Jeff Hays said a vacancy committee would meet later this month to pick Lebsock’s replacement, saying,

“Statute clearly assigns our vacancy committee the authority and responsibility to fill this seat. After careful consideration, we concluded it would be dereliction of duty to punt the appointment to Gov. John Hickenlooper. We owe it to the people of House District 34 to give them the experience of ethical representation, which the Democrats, when they controlled the seat, signally failed to provide.”

The rationalization for this argument is that the Democrats had known about Lebsock’s harassing conduct all along, and covered it up before the #MeToo fervor struck. Of course, if the Democrats knew, it’s likely that his Republican colleagues knew as well. Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 1/6/2018: The “Too Sick To Come Up With A Good Headline” Edition

He’s lucky: he has hair...

Good Morning!

1 A solution to a perpetual problem. I do the mandatory introduction to legal ethics for two jurisdictions. Both are early in the morning,and both have courts monitoring them, insisting that to get credit, attendees must be present for every second of the course. The problem: late arrivals. One of my jurisdictions had a tendency to let late-comers in if it’s just a few minutes, but sometimes it gets ridiculous. Once the line is blurred, when does it get hard again? I have sen the administrators tell a lawyer that she is absolutely the last one who will get a break, only to see another late comer burst through the door panicked, upset, and with a doozy of an excuse…and then another, and another. This is especially ironic because lawyers are ethically required to be on time to court, or else.

In my other jurisdiction, they deal with the problem by absolute enforcement. 30 seconds late, and you have to come back next month. It doesn’t matter why, it doesn’t matter where the lawyer came from (one had flown in from Seoul and was two minutes late). If you arrive after the doors are closed at 9 am sharp, you can’t get credit. This, as you might imagine, often sparks tantrums, tears, threats, and “Do you know who I am?” One furious attendee actually cast a curse on every bar employee in sight. I’m talking about a real curse, right out of the movies, pointing and chanting. Some months we have had more than ten latecomers in the lobby, acting like an angry mob, and threatening a riot.

This jurisdiction has solved the problem by recently telling all who need the course on the bar website and  in email messages that the program begins at 8:30 am, when it really doesn’t. In other words, the solution is a lie: if someone arrives at 8:59, there’s no problem.

Is this ethical?

2. Oh, this was obviously going to be an ethics rain wreck long ago. AG Sessions announced that the Justice Department would not be following the Obama Administration’s policy regarding federal anti-pot laws—which is to say, it would not signal that it wouldn’t enforce the law. As a result,  Corey Gardner, Republican Senator from happily stoned Colorado, announced that he would block any appointments to Justice until the Department charged with enforcing laws agrees to stop enforcing laws. What Sessions did is not the draconian reversal it has been represented as by the Angry Trump Hate Mob, Stoner Chapter. Read the order from Sessions here.

Never mind. Following the lead of California, which has officially announced that it will encourage breaches of the immigration laws, now Colorado wants to impede the functioning of national law enforcement to force the federal government to let another state veto drug laws. This is what we call “a dangerous and irresponsible trend.”

3.  The Tragedy of Joanie Cunnningham. The New York Times Magazine ended the year with biographical sketches, including the sad story of Erin Moran, aka Joanie Cunningham on “Happy Days,” who died of cancer in 2017. It’s an all-too-typical story of a child star with a dysfunctional family who grew up on a set without ever receiving the parenting and support she needed to be able to become a functioning adult. I knew about Moran’s problems after the show ended; I did not know that her bitterness about her fellow cast members stemmed from her feelings as a child that her TV family was a substitute her real family, and that they failed her. Of course, the Cunninghams, Fonzie, Ralph and Potsie had no duty to become Moran’s surrogate family, but I am not surprised that a child actor would feel this way, especially one who was  being neglected and mistreated at home the way Erin Moran apparently was. Interestingly, child actor advocate Paul Petersen has said that his TV mom and dad, Donna Reed and Carl Betz, did act as his surrogate parents in important and beneficial ways.

I continue to believe that using child performers before the age of informed consent is unethical. Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 12/20/2017: Maybe It’s The Christmas Tree Lights That Are Putting Me In A Rotten Mood, But This Stuff Isn’t Helping…

(It only looks this way to me…)

Good morning, everyone!

Grrrrrrrr…!

1 Again I ask: how does democracy survive this? It is so discouraging to read about facts that “the public has a right to know,” that are”fit to print,” or that must be revealed if democracy is not to “die in darkness,” and know, know, that they will not be honestly or properly covered by the mainstream news media for purely partisan and ideological purposes. It is doubly discouraging to know that so many Americans are either so brainwashed or without integrity to begin with that they will defend this betrayal…and even attack those who try to let the truth out.

There was  a story published earlier this week by Politico, which is largely left-leaning but a major source of political news on the web. It was thoroughly sourced, and thoroughly shocking.

It described how Obama administration secretly quashed efforts to stop Hezbollah from funding its operations through criminal enterprises in the United States, deliberately sabotaging US law enforcement’s efforts to fight terrorist drug and money laundering operations, by  curtailing long-standing efforts to interdict cocaine shipments in the U.S. by Hezbollah, the terrorist organization closely allied with Iran.

The federal and international effort to root out Hezbollah’s crime network predated the Obama administration:

The campaign, dubbed Project Cassandra, was launched in 2008 after the Drug Enforcement Administration amassed evidence that Hezbollah had transformed itself from a Middle East-focused military and political organization into an international crime syndicate that some investigators believed was collecting $1 billion a year from drug and weapons trafficking, money laundering and other criminal activities.

But President Obama was determined to get his nuclear deal with Iran done in his second term, so this effort was suspended by executive directive. “This was a policy decision, it was a systematic decision,” said Politico’s on-the-record source David Asher, a Defense Department official charged with tracking Hezbollah’s worldwide criminal enterprise “They serially ripped apart this entire effort that was very well supported and resourced, and it was done from the top down.” Continue reading

Comment Of The Day #2: “Back To The Bigoted Baker: It’s Complicated…More Than I Thought”

This the second of the Comments of the Day on the post about the Great Cake Controversy; a third arrived last night, which will appear shortly. It was authored by the always provocative Mrs. Q—you can tell because she always uses ampersands. I used to turn them back into “and,” and then decided that this was a signature feature.

The three Comments of the Day on this topic are as different as they could be. I detest the Colorado baker controversy, because three people could have and should have avoided the whole thing, saved a lot of time, money, and ink, and just exhibited some empathy and proportion rather than avoiding the Golden Rule so emphatically. I detest it, but it certainly is a rich ethics subject.

Here is Mrs. Q’s  Comment of the Day on the post Back To The Bigoted Baker: It’s Complicated…More Than I Thought:

When my wife & I were looking for wedding rings we stopped at a place where the owner after talking to us went on a strange rant about some NFL player who came out gay. The owner went so far as to physically mimic kissing another guy in telling his story, and shivering with wide toothed disgust at the thought. He didn’t say he wouldn’t sell us a ring, but obviously we didn’t want one from his store & the feeling was mutual.

We could have gone on Yelp and given the store a bad review or complain to someone who could “go after” him politically, but at the end of the day our relationship didn’t (doesn’t) need others affirmation. We were certainly hurt – not by his thoughts but the manner in which he shared his thoughts. Yet we picked our proverbial battle and let it go. Why? because we too are Christian and know no one person can ever really give us what we need. Hurt feelings can be gotten over and forgiveness heals wounds far faster than enacting revenge because someone doesn’t agree with us or what we do.

We have to ask what will be next. I don’t believe suddenly we’ll see “No Homo’s Allowed” signs on shops. And ultimately that’s not what I believe this case is about. Also I’m not convinced that these bakers are bigots either. Instead I suspect what this case is ultimately about religion and thought police. Orthodox Muslims having to make non-Halal foods, Jewish deli’s selling pork, Christians making Satanic themed confections. I’d rather see a few victim-minded SJW’s get butt-hurt than force others to sign off on what are ultimately another persons *private* beliefs. Forcing business owners to think as we wish sets a dangerous precedent while walking away from a shop not being affirmed only requires one to find another place to go. And honestly it’s fairly easy to find smug leftist affirmation at businesses. Yes…even in small towns too. Continue reading

Comment Of The Day #1: “Back To The Bigoted Baker: It’s Complicated…More Than I Thought”

There were so many thoughtful and diverse comments on the post about the Great Cake Controversy that I could have justified four or five Comments of the Day. I chose two. This is the first, by the indefatigable Michael Ejercito. Here is his Comment of the Day on the post Back To The Bigoted Baker: It’s Complicated…More Than I Thought:

“Art is notoriously difficult to define. To that list, I could argue for the addition of gardeners, landscapers, bathroom floor tilers, interior designers, architects, website designers, marketing consultants, and on and on. Is a sign-maker an artist? A printer?”

This is a feature, not a fault, of the First Amendment. Courts must make findings of fact based on evidence and testimony. Courts did in fact do just that in Hurley v. Irish American Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Group of Boston, 515 U.S. 557 91995) and Rumsfeld v. Forum for Academic and Institutional Rights, Inc., 547 U.S. 47 (2006).

In its amicus brief, the Department of Justice spent a total of six paragraphs detailing how public accommodations laws do not ordinarily implicate freedom of expression.

“Justice Kennedy became involved in some of this discussion about where to draw the lines — the ready-made/custom cake distinction, the speech/conduct distinction, and the distinction between selling a cake in a shop and supervising the cutting of a cake at a ceremony…”

It is a distinction that must be made.

It is a tenuous argument, at best, that the sale of sign-making supplies constitutes expression. Thus, Colorado’s laws properly apply to such, and it is unlawful to refuse to sell sign-making supplies because the purported customer is a Westboro Baptist or a militant Islamist. And religious discrimination laws must cover unpopular religions, or else it fails to achieve its own purpose. Continue reading

Back To The Bigoted Baker: It’s Complicated…More Than I Thought

The last time (in July) I dealt with the apparently thornier-than-I-thought issue of the Colorado baker who refused to sell a wedding cake to a gay couple, I assumed that the Supreme Court would treat this as a pure public accommodations case, and side with Colorado and the couple. I was wrong. Now it is beginning to look like baker Jack Phillips may even prevail, based on the justices’ comments during oral argument.

Then I wrote, quoting my post when this case first surfaced…

“The court’s conclusion  is impossible to rebut. The cake the baker was asked to bake for the gay wedding differed not at all from one he would normally sell a straight couple. In truth, this had nothing to do with expression. He was just refusing to serve a gay couple because of their sexual orientation. Selling them a standard cake would neither constitute, nor would it be recognized as a “message” in support of gay marriage.

The Court agreed that a wedding cake with a customized message celebrating a same-sex marriage as such might implicate First Amendment speech issues, but “we need not reach this issue,” the court said. “We note, again, that Phillips denied Craig’s and Mullins’ request without any discussion regarding the wedding cake’s design or any possible written inscriptions.”

In other words, Phillips was gratuitously and unnecessarily being a cruel jerk. An alleged Christian who is unable to detect the basic Golden Rule application in treating fellow citizens with the minimal level of respect inherent in allowing them to buy a standard wedding cake requiring no “Yay Gay!” or “Charlie and David Forever!” messages in pink frosting deserves no sympathy or quarter from the law. Could the couple have just shrugged and found another bakery? Sure, they could have. Linda Brown could also have just shrugged and found an all-black school to attend, too.

The gay couple are not the villains here. Jack Phillips broke the social contract, as well as the law.”

Recent articles about the SCOTUS appeal have added some facts that I had missed, or not given sufficient weight. For example, Continue reading

Ethics Dunce: Ames Mayfield’s Cub Scout Den

 

Ames Mayfield is a smart, gutsy 11-year-old, and this episode in his life may work to his eventual advantage. Nonetheless, his treatment by his Cub Scout den was nauseating, cruel and wrong, and contradicts the very values Scouting exists to imbue.

There is another likely villain here as well.

Ames’ Cub Scout den met with a Colorado State Senator, Republican Vicki Marble, last week. Ames came prepared with a long list of typed-up questions. (I wonder where THOSE came from?)  He raised his hand to ask his first one , involving gun legislation. “I was shocked that you co-sponsored a bill to allow domestic violence offenders to continue to own a gun,” Ames said, according to a video posted to YouTube by …hmmm, not Ames but his mother. “Why on earth would you want someone who beats their wife to have access to a gun?”

Ames’s questions continued until a den leader suggested that he pause and allow the Senator a chance to answer. I wonder if Marble noted the Supreme Court’s decision n Voisine v. United States, holding that a federal statute banning firearms possession by anyone convicted of a “misdemeanor crime of domestic violence” including individuals who have “misdemeanor assault convictions for reckless (as contrasted to knowing or intentional) conduct.” Maybe Ames, who I’m sure is an avid reader of Ethics Alarms, quoted my post on the issue, which concluded in part,

The real question, from an ethical standpoint, is whether Congress can and should remove a citizen’s Second Amendment right based on a misdemeanor conviction for domestic abuse. Is that fair? Sure it is. It is already settled law that it is constitutional to prevent convicted felons from owning  guns, even if it was a non-violent felony. From an ethical public policy standpoint, why would it be overly restrictive to ban gun ownership from those who engage in a violent misdemeanor?

…The majority covers the legal logic of the decision; the ethics logic is simpler. How difficult is it not to physicality abuse a spouse to the extent that one is found guilty of breaking the law? It shouldn’t be hard. Nor do I weep for any degree of spouse-beater who is denied the right to purchase a gun. Good, I say to such a person. I don’t trust you, and I don’t trust your judgment. If having access to a gun was so important to you, you should have thought about that before you started knocking loved ones around. If the threat of losing gun rights makes hot-heads think twice before engaging in domestic violence, that’s good too.

After the meeting, the leader of Ames’s Cub Scout pack, which oversees various dens, met with the boy’s mother, Lori Mayfield, and told her that that her son was no longer welcome in the den. Her son’s question was disrespectful and too political, Lori was told. (Her son’s question…)

Accepting for the nonce that this was all Ames’ idea, which we should know is baloney, why would he be kicked out? Continue reading