I’d make this an ethics quiz, but I think it’s too potentially important to treat as a jump ball. This is the kind of extreme mess that threatens free speech, especially when on entire political party is searching for an excuse to ban “hate speech,” once they have defined it just well enough to constrain political opponents.
In Cullman City, Alabama, the school board’s president’s son, who attends the school district’s high school, posted a video to SnapChat in which he could be seen and heard chanting “White power!” and “Kill all the niggers!” The video has been widely circulated among students. The parent of a black student who saw the video has demanded the resignation of Amy Carter (no, not THAT Amy Carter; don’t be silly), the school board’s president. The parent is also demanding that the school take action against the student. “Cullman City Schools would clearly punish our son if he made a video threatening the white students of Cullman High School,” she wrote in an email. “My son is one of a handful of black children in the school. Tell me how he wouldn’t be threatened by KILL ALL THE Ns?! Explain to me how this is not a threat.”
Well, I can answer that last part. Under First Amendment case law, the “true threats” doctrine holds that allegedly threatening speech cannot be punished unless the government can prove that the speaker meant to communicate a serious expression of an intent to commit an act of unlawful violence to a particular individual. A chant on a video posted on social media that mentions no specific student will not qualify as an actionable threat. Her previous question is tougher. The school and the town itself has a reputation for racial hostility toward blacks. The mother of the black student says her son has repeatedly been subjected to racist remarks during his four years as a student in the district. I see good reason for the video to be unsettling in that context.
On the other hand, I’m getting awfully tired of the “they wouldn’t treat a black adult/child this way if he/she did X” argument, which is almost never challenged even when it’s bigoted nonsense, as in the race-based attacks on the Rittenhouse verdict. It’s more presumed racism, and a cheat, a device to avoid making a solid argument.
In Fulton v. City of Philadelphia the U.S. Supreme Court will decide yet another legal controversy that should not have occurred at all. Like the various cake-designing law suits, two parties that easily could have come to a mutually agreeable compromise decided, as the old saw goes, “to make a federal case of it.” Now, with the decision bound to abridge somebody’s constitutional right, we will have yet another example of how “Hard cases make bad law.”
This week the Justices heard arguments testing its 2015 decision establishing a right to same-sex marriage with Philadelphia’s decision to bar a Catholic agency that it had hired to screen potential foster parents because the agency refused to screen same-sex couples and approve them, since the position of the Church is that same-sex marriage is a sin. Hence the question: Is Philadelphia discriminating on the basis of religion by refusing to continue using the agency based on its religious mandates? The Church’s lawyer, Lori Windham, says that the agency only wants to continue work that it has been doing for centuries. Besides, she argued, gay couple had ever applied to the agency. If one had, she said, the couple would have been referred to another agency.
What’s the beef, then? Justice Alito says that like the bakery cases (my comparison, not his), LBGT activists want to bend the Church to its will, resulting in Philadelphia acting based on hostility to the Catholic agency’s views.
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.
“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 →
1. Dummies or Liars? In a comment about yesterday’s 7-2 SCOTUS ruling favoring the Christian cake shop in another baker vs. gay couple controversy, Still Spartan wrote, ” I also don’t want to spend the next few months explaining the ruling to non-lawyer liberals who already are beginning to tear their hair out because they don’t understand the opinion.” Unfortunately, that’s exactly what she will have to do, and the rest of us, as there is already a deliberate effort underway to misrepresent the decision and deceive members of the public too lazy to read Supreme Court opinions, or too under-educated to understand them. (It really isn’t that hard.) This is fear-mongering, and also an effort to undermine the Supreme Court, which can be expected to be blocking a number of left-driven totalitarian measures in the not-too-distant future.
For example, on “The Late Show,” where a disturbingly high percentage of millennials get their news commentary, the smug, insufferable Stephen Colbert described the ruling this way:
“It’s a bad day for gay rights in America. And also for cake rights because this morning, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of a Colorado baker who refused to bake a cake to celebrate the marriage of a same-sex couple. That is tough news. But to lighten the blow the Supreme Court did send the gay couple a lovely cake” which was a cake in the shape of the middle finger.
Hilarious! And a complete misrepresentation of the opinion. The question is, did Colbert and his writers really not understand the ruling? What are the odds that any of them read it? If they didn’t know what the ruling was, isn’t it irresponsible to pass along false information? Or did they know that the opinion in no way undermined the rights of gays to be served in public accommodations like everyone else, but found, and correctly so, that the process was rigged against the baker because of open hostility to religious freedom? If so, the “joke” was deliberate misrepresentation.
The fact that the lie would have been in service of a joke is not a justification. Spreading falsity in public is harmful, and it does not matter who does it, or why.
2. From the “Stop making me defend the New York Yankees!” files: This is an integrity vs. cash test for Major League Baseball. ESPN announced that it was picking up the Yankees’ one 1 o’clock Sunday, July 8 game with the Blue Jays in Toronto for its 8 p.m. Sunday night Game of the Week. This decision, however, was announced after the Yankees and Orioles players agreed to make up last week’s rained out game as part of a doubleheader on July 9. As now scheduled, the Yankees will have to play three games in a 24 hour period. The Yankees would probably not leave the ballpark in Toronto until midnight, then have to go through customs, getting into Baltimore at 4 or 5 a.m., into their hotel rooms around 7, and be due at Camden Yards in a few hours.
This is potentially dangerous to the players (baseball is hard to play while asleep), and also undermines the team: the Yankees are expected to be in a neck-and-neck race with the Boston Red Sox for primacy in the American League East, and a single game could be crucial. If the Yankees are forced to play Sunday night on July 8, the Yankee management and players are threatening to retaliate against ESPN by refusing all interviews with ESPN broadcasters. Of course, killing those in-game interviews will only improve the broadcast.
Then the Yankees will claim that the Red Sox were colluding with ESPN, and there will have to be an investigation… Continue reading →
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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
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 →