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Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 1/22/2018: The Returns Of A Terrible Idea, A Times Mania, And Lord Acton’s Observation

Morning!

1. Bad Ideas Never Die Dept. The Obama Administration  killed an unethical Bush Administration rule that permitted a wide variety of health care workers to refuse to administer treatments and procedures they found morally repugnant, what the Bush administration termed workers’ “right of conscience.” It was, and is, a terrible idea; The American Medical Association  explained why, in the context of opposing conscience outs for pharmacists, when it declared..

“RESOLVED, That our American Medical Association reaffirm our policies supporting responsibility to the patient as paramount in all situations and the principle of access to medical care for all people (Reaffirm HOD Policy)…

Now that bad idea and the same ethically warped principles are embodied in a new Trump administration policy that provides “religious freedom protections” for doctors, nurses and other health care workers who object to performing procedures like abortions and gender reassignment surgery. This is a sop to the Republican evangelical base. As I wrote here (actually partially quoting myself from an earlier article),

“Conscience clauses” came into being in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade opinion legalizing abortion. Obviously that right to privacy ruling put Catholic hospitals in a difficult position, so the U.S. Congress passed the Church amendment (named after Sen. Frank Church of Idaho) in 1973. This provision allowed individual health care providers and institutions such as hospitals to refuse to provide abortion and sterilization services, based on moral or religious convictions. Most states adopted their own “conscience clause” laws by 1978. Conscience clauses are a terrible idea that encourage arbitrary professional misconduct. It is an example of how morally-based action can lead to unethical conduct….People who voluntarily undertake the duties of a job should either be prepared to fulfill those duties, take the consequences of not doing so, or not take the job in the first place.That is the ethical duty that one accepts when one agrees to do a job. “

President Trump doesn’t do ethics, and not being a deep thinker,  inconsistencies of principle don’t resister on him. The reason for requiring health care workers to perform their jobs regardless of whether some portion of it clashes with their religious beliefs, moral conviction, political passions or gag reflex is the same whether a doctor objects to abortions, a baker doesn’t approve of gay marriage , a restaurant owner doesn’t want to serve blacks, Hispanics, or Republicans, or an NFL football player is offended by the National Anthem. Society doesn’t work any other way. The religious freedom dodge easily turns into a cover for bigotry, harassment and oppression.

Nothing in the Constitution says that citizens have the right to hurt people when they practice their religion, or defy our laws, or refuse to perform the duties of their professions or employment while still getting paid because they cite religious conscience.

2. I Told You Not To Look Under That Rock! Dept. For some reason, I broke my own rule and skimmed a Paul Krugman column. What was I thinking? What is so digsuting about Krugman is his intellectual dishonesty, as he writes down to his readers using rhetorical tricks, rationalizations and lazy arguments that are 90% political bias and 10% substance at best. Here was the sentence that exploded my head,  stopped me from reading, as Krugman twisted reality to hold Republicans responsible for the government shutdown that was 100% caused by Senate Democrats blocking the continuing resolution to keep the government open:

“Protecting the Dreamers is, by the way, enormously popular, even among Republicans, who oppose deporting them by a huge margin. So it’s not as if the G.O.P. would be giving up a lot.”

So, as long as a provision is popular with its base, a party isn’t “giving up a lot” by supporting it—regardless of whether it is responsible, fair, smart, principled, or in the best interest of the country. Got it, Paul. This is the lowest common denominator theory of democracy being peddled to New York Times reader by its Nobel Prize-winning columnist: legislation by poll. Continue reading

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It’s A Comment Of The Day Weekend! First Up…Comment Of The Day (3): “An Ethics Alarms Holiday Challenge! Identify The Rationalizations, Logical Fallacies, Falsehoods And Outright Errors In This Essay…” AND, In Related News, Another Bakery Gets Slammed In Oregon

I’m not exaggerating: I have at least four Comments of the Day stacked up on the Ethics alarms runway after this one, and there are usually COTDs arriving on Saturdays. I can’t promise to get all of them up today, especially since I’m hacking away at the 2017 Ethics Alarms Awards, and this is a long working weekend at ProEthics. Still, I will get a lot of them to you, and it’s a provocative group, as you will soon see.

But first, a prelude and some context.

An Oregon appellate court this week upheld a ruling against the owners of the since-closed Sweetcakes by Melissa,  Aaron and Melissa Klein, forcing them to pay emotional-distress damages of $135,000 to Rachel and Laurel Bowman-Cryer, a lesbian couple for whom they refused to design and sell a wedding cake almost five years ago. The Klein’s argued that state Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian violated state and federal laws and their rights as artists to free speech, their rights to religious freedom and their rights as defendants to  due process.

The Oregon court ruled that the Kleins’ argument that their cakes entail an artistic expression is “entitled to be taken seriously,” but it’s not enough for the couple to assert their cakes are pieces of art:

“Although we accept that the Kleins imbue each wedding cake with their own aesthetic choices, they have made no showing that other people will necessarily experience any wedding cake that the Kleins create predominantly as ‘expression’ rather than as food.”

This mess commenced  when Rachel Bowman-Cryer went to the suburban Portland bakery with her mother in January of 2013. When Aaron Klein was told that the wedding did not involve a male partner,  he said that the bakery did not make cakes for same-sex weddings. They left, but soon the mother returned to argue with Klein as Rachel sat in the car, weeping. her mother went in to speak with Klein. The mother told Klein she had once thought like him, but having two gay children forced her to see the error of her ways.  Klein retorted with Leviticus: “You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination.”

The complaint and action by Oregon’s Bureau of Labor and Industries followed. You can read the opinion here.

Ugh.

This case is even worse than the one currently before the Supreme Court, discussed here. Continue reading

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 12/29/2017: Daring The Alt-Right

GOOD Morning, Everyone!

1 Ethics Alarms Holiday Challenge! report: You did not disappoint  me. I have not read all the comments in detail yet, but the various evisceration of NBC’s jaw-droppingly stupid call for an end to freedom of speech produced at least five strong Comment of the Day candidates. I won’t re-post all of them, because Noah’s inept screed doesn’t warrant that much space, frankly. Good job!

On a related administrative note, I’m really going to try to get all the Ethics Alarms Best and Worst completed this year (having fallen short the last two), and would appreciate nominations in all categories. (Some examples are here and here, but don’t feel constrained. New categories are welcome.)

Use this post, please, or e-mail me at jamproethics@verizon.net.

2. Doesn’t help…President Trump couldn’t resist tweeting this:

‘In the East, it could be the COLDEST New Year’s Eve on record,’ he tweeted from Mar-a-Lago Thursday night, where it is currently a balmy 78 degrees Fahrenheit Perhaps we could use a little bit of that good old Global Warming that our Country, but not other countries, was going to pay TRILLIONS OF DOLLARS to protect against. Bundle up!’ 

Ugh.

  • These are the tweets that try men’s souls. It’s just never a good thing for the leader of the country to broadcast his ignorance and deficits of critical thought.
  • It would be a bit less annoying—but still unpresidential and self-destructive,  if the President were satirizing the climate change chorus, which despite the fact that the science they claim to revere so much says its nonsense to do so, still cite individual weather events as “proof” of global warming, most recently the 2017 hurricane season. Or if he were trolling his foes, which he is often masterful at doing, trying to lure them into hypocrisy. Predictably, journalists took the bait anyway, with many suddenly becoming sticklers for the key distinction between  climate change, and weather after years and years of intentionally blurring in in their interviews and reporting. Sadly, there is no reason to believe the President was doing anything but trumpeting his own scientific illiteracy.
  • I wonder what the President’s approval ratings would be if he had never sent a tweet after taking the oath of office?

Continue reading

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Welcome To The Slippery Slope! Fordham’s Coffee Shop Bigotry

A recent episode at Fordham illustrates quite effectively the way American society could unravel as a result of a Supreme Court decision supporting the Masterpeice Cakeshop’s claim that its faith-based objection to same sex marriage should justify restricting service to some customers.

Rodrigue’s Coffee House is an off-campus coffee shop run by a student club at Fordham University.

The shop has a “Safer Space Policy” that reads…

“Rodrigue’s strives to be a safer space on Fordham’s campus. For these reasons, consider the following:

Do not make assumptions about someone’s gender, sexuality, race, class, or experiences. Be aware of your own identity, while being considerate of the personhood of your peers. Be mindful of the ways in which your words and actions impact others. Be aware of the boundaries of other’s space, physical or otherwise, and respect their consent. No racism – No sexism – No homophobia. If you feel that someone has transgressed this policy, we want you to feel comfortable confronting them or approaching a member behind the counter, who is available as a resource to assist you.”

This is Authentic Frontier Gibberish and first degree virtue signalling, and could be fairly translated as “We are pompous and oppressive social justice warriors who are intolerant of the views, statements, or opinions of anyone who does not share our rigid and undeniably correct ideology. We hereby declare our right to ostracize such non-conforming individuals on the basis of what we, in our sole discretion, consider hate speech. Fear us.”

Fordham College Republicans visited the coffee shop wearing MAGA hats. Sure, they did this to provoke a response, knowing what the likely reaction would be, much like a gay couple deliberately asking for a wedding cake at a Christian bakery.  Memorialized in the video above, the president of the club didn’t disappoint, and angrily ordered the College Republicans to leave the premises.

“This is a community standard—you are wearing hats that completely violate safe space policy. You have to take it off or you have to go…I am protecting my customers,” the president said. Note that she was “protecting” his customers from exposure to the thrice-removed (initials, the phrase “Make America Great Again” which is benign on its face, and its association with the Trump campaign) message on a cap.

“We are your customers, we bought something,” one of the young Republicans replied.

“I don’t want people like you supporting this club… no one here wants people like you supporting our club,” the president answered. “I am giving you five minutes….You are threatening the integrity of our club. This is a community standard—you are wearing hats that completely violate safe space policy. You have to take it off or you have to go.”

When one of the students then asked her to explain what she thinks the MAGA hat stands for, to which she shouted, “Fascism, Nazis! You have three minutes.”

Legally, of course, this conduct is distinguishable from the conduct of the same-sex marriage decrying cakeshop owner. There is no law prohibiting a proprietor from behaving like a vile, intolerant, rude, bigoted asshole, just basic standards of decency.  Nor is there a law protecting conservatives from invidious discrimination in public accommodations based on passively displayed political beliefs, although if this kind of thing starts proliferating, there will be.

However, the toxic effects on the culture by the two examples of intolerance and disdain for other citizens and human beings is exactly the same. Each is similarly mean-spirited, each is based on excessive self-righteousness, and each equally harms society, and the nation by elevating tribalism to standard practice. The theory of the coffee shop proprietor, I suppose—that the mere presence of a hat with initials on it is “unsafe” —-is marginally more outrageous and idiotic than the baker’s claim that selling a cake for a wedding he will not attend, is not invited to, that will never impose on his consciousness once the customers walk out the door unless his cake turns out to be poisoned, and that will take place whether he provides the cake or not,  is a burden on his religious faith. Marginally. They both constitute  unethical mistreatment of other human beings who deserve better, and breaches of the Golden Rule. That in both cases the victims of the unethical conduct may have intentionally presented themselves to be abused does not mitigate the abuse.

I might as well state the obvious, that the members of the intolerant club operating the shop are 100% behind the cause of forcing the cakemaker to sell the gay couple a wedding cake, but believe it is fair and just to refuse to sell Republicans a muffin.

Sometimes I am embarrassed that I even have to write a post. This is one of those times.

If higher education is manufacturing future citizens who think and act like the club president running the coffee shop, then higher education is doing the nation more harm than good.

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Comment Of The Day #4: “Back To The Bigoted Baker: It’s Complicated…More Than I Thought”

Ryan Harkins’ Comment of the Day, the fourth on the post about the Great Cake Controversy ,responds to #3, by Extradimensional Cephalopod.

The four COTD’s cover a great deal of legal and ethical territory and if not the full spectrum of positions on this difficult topic. Ryan’s three predecessors can be read here:

After you read #4, I’ll ask you which of the COTDs come closest to your own opinion. If the answer is “none of them,” by all means try for #5!

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

EC,

I hate to answer for the baker, so I hope you don’ mind if I respond with how I would answer.

What if I walked into the shop and asked for a wedding cake for no reason at all? Nobody’s getting married; I just want the cake. Is it against his religion to make that style of cake for anything other than weddings?

It would not be against my religion, no.

One thing I want to point out about your line of inquiry here is that you are divorcing the mechanical action of making a cake from the purpose of making a cake. A cake is a cake, and apart from any purpose, it remains a cake with no further meaning than a configuration of confectionery molecules. But the purpose for making the cake defines the context. If you wanted me to bake you a cake so you could bury it in your backyard, I wouldn’t have any religious objections to that, but I would certainly object to having the fruits of my labor just thrown away. Just as I would object if you wanted me to write you a book so could use the pages of the book as toilet paper.

The purpose of making a wedding cake is for it to be displayed and consumed at a wedding. If you aren’t going to use the cake for a wedding, ontologically speaking, could it even be a wedding cake?

Do I have to show him a marriage license?

I wouldn’t require that. My general standpoint would be to take people at their word. That being said, if I knew you and you were known for pranks, were opposed to marriage in general, and nothing I knew about your recent activities hinted at a wedding, I might want some actual proof that a wedding was occurring.

I’m an atheist; will he refuse to acknowledge my marriage because you can’t have marriage without a god? Does only the Christian deity count for a “real” marriage?

Since I’m Catholic, I’ll just toss out what the Catholic Church teaches about marriage. Marriage is universal. Historically, marriage permeates pretty much every culture. Marriage is an institution that has, for the most part, united a man and his wife to the children they bear together. Marriage does not require a profession of faith, because it is a foundational institution of mankind. That is why eating, drinking, and shelter don’t require a profession of faith. They are also foundational aspects of the human condition. So, there is no objection to two atheists marrying.

Where the religious context comes into view is with the nature of that marriage. Catholics profess that Jesus elevated the institution of marriage to a sacrament. This means that a valid marriage between baptized individuals cannot be dissolved save by the death of one of the two parties. But that does not mean every marriage is sacramental. If one of the two parties is not baptized, the marriage is still a valid marriage, but it is not a sacramental marriage. Thus it could be dissolved, and either party would be free to re-marry.

A funny oddity of terminology crops up in Catholic teaching. Since a valid, sacramental marriage cannot be dissolved, but since parties can licitly separate for serious reasons (abuse, abandonment, adultery, addiction), a Catholic can be married and divorced at the same time…

I would argue that the artistic quality of the cake has nothing to do with who is getting married, or if there’s even a marriage at all–at least, as far as religion is concerned.

I agree with you to a certain extent, here. The artistic quality is its own concern. It is the teleological purpose of the cake that is the true contention. So that raises a question: if I bake a cake that I do not intend to be used at a wedding, but looks just like a cake that I do intend to be used at a wedding, is it a wedding cake? To use some technical terms, there is the essence of a thing, and there are the accidents of a thing. The essence of a thing is what is essential to a thing being that thing; accidents are just features that particular thing has that are not essential to a thing being that thing. The essence of a chair is something to sit on. Accidents of a chair are having one leg, or three, or four, having a back, not having a back, etc. So what is the essence of a wedding cake, and what are the accidents of a wedding cake? I think the only essential difference between a wedding cake and a non-wedding cake is the intent for which the cake is made. The only part I waffle on is the cake-topper…

On a separate note, I assert that religion ultimately must be subordinate to the law of the land.

I’m uncomfortable with how you phrase this, so let me toss out what I think about this, and let me know if it does or doesn’t conform with what you’re thinking. Continue reading

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Comment Of The Day #3: “Back To The Bigoted Baker: It’s Complicated…More Than I Thought”

And now there are FOUR Comments of the Day on the post about the Great Cake Controversy. This is a record number for a single Ethics Alarms post. It is a true ethics conflict: which should have priority in a pluralistic society, the right of all citizens to be treated equally under the law, and to have the government ensure their right to the pursuit of happiness, or the individual right to act and live in concert with one’s sincerely held religious beliefs, and to not be forced into expressive speech, part of the right to liberty? This part of the controversy doesn’t even include the ethical question of whether either party should have allowed this to be come a legal dispute.

When I post the fourth COTD, with was a response to #3, I’ll include links to the other three and include a poll for readers to register their opinion regarding which comes closer to their own view

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

There’s an obvious question here (well, several) that occurs to me: What if I walked into the shop and asked for a wedding cake for no reason at all? Nobody’s getting married; I just want the cake. Is it against his religion to make that style of cake for anything other than weddings? Do I have to show him a marriage license? I’m an atheist; will he refuse to acknowledge my marriage because you can’t have marriage without a god? Does only the Christian deity count for a “real” marriage?

I would argue that the artistic quality of the cake has nothing to do with who is getting married, or if there’s even a marriage at all–at least, as far as religion is concerned. If I asked someone to draw me a picture of a bird, they don’t have to know anything about me in order to make it. Their art doesn’t have anything to do with me, and they are not expressing any objectionable ideas. They’re not endorsing me in any way by taking me on as a customer. Therefore, this isn’t like refusing to make a swastika cake. This is like refusing to sell a cake to Nazis. (Yes, Nazis should be able to buy cake like anyone else. Preventing them from doing so is just bullying, and won’t teach them anything except more hate. How will they learn how to appreciate different people if only other Nazis talk to them?) Continue reading

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From The Ethics Alarms “Stop Making Me Defend Sarah Huckabee Sanders!” Files: “The Advocate” Lies About The Masterpiece Cakeshop Case

 

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if activists had integrity? Unfortunately, most of them don’t, and I only say “most” because I haven’t checked all of them. Virtually all that I have checked spin, distort facts, and lie outright, because the ends justify the means to them, and they, of course, are Right. It’s the Saint’s Excuse. Lies that advance the cause are benign.

The latest disgraceful example of wilful deception in support of a passionately felt cause came from the LGBT publication “The Advocate,” as well as many Democratic and progressive news sources. They all chose to deliberately misrepresent what the President’s spokesperson said about his position was on The Great Cake Controversy…all the better to rev up hate and fear among their readers. You see a typical example in the label to the video above. “Sarah Sanders: Trump OK with businesses hanging anti-gay signs.” She did not say that. The video proves she did not say that. She was asked if the President agreed with the Solicitor General in his oral argument before the Supreme Court in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case when he said that it would be lawful and possible for a baker to hang a sign saying, “We don’t bake cakes for gay weddings.” She said yes. Of course yes. The government’s case is that a baker should not be forced to “participate/endorse” a ceremony that his religion declares morally wrong, and thus is not discriminating by refusing to make cakes for same sex weddings, as long as the baker does not generally discriminate in providing service on the basis of sexual orientation. If the Court agrees, then a baker such as the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop can legally follow the dictates of his faith and not make same- sex wedding cakes, and if he isn’t selling them, he not only could but should inform potential same-sex couples of that fact.

This is not, by any fair assessment, an “antigay sign.” It makes no antigay assertions at all. The statement is false. Unequivocally, intentionally false. Continue reading

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