Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Situational Ethics of Jeff Jacoby by Anthony McCarthy

As an example of distortion for the purpose of defending bigotry, Jeff Jacoby’s column in today’s Boston Globe is classic. His claim is that religious liberty is in danger from the might of gay people.

His absurd claim in a nutshell, “But religious liberty is under assault by gay activists, and the First Amendment is getting battered.”

What liberty is it that is under assault? The liberty of people to deny gay people public accommodation using religion as an excuse.

In April, photographers Jon and Elaine Huguenin were fined $6,637 by the New Mexico Civil Rights Commission for declining to shoot a lesbian commitment ceremony. The Huguenins didn't want to take a job that would have required them to disregard their Christian values. But the commission ruled that in turning down the work, they had illegally discriminated on the basis of sexual orientation.

Presumably the Huguenin’s were offering an advertised, professional service. Perhaps their business is incorporated by the state. If New Mexico has made gay people a covered class in its civil rights laws and regulations businesses would have no right to deny their services because prospective clients were gay. Jacoby might see if differently if they claimed their religious convictions opposed inter-racial or inter-religious marriage or commitment ceremonies. I’m fairly certain that if a business refused professional services to a couple because one was Christian and the other Jewish, Jacoby would have no problem understanding that there is no religious liberty issue, it was a straight forward issue of public accommodations.

His second example is more interesting because it contains what I’d consider a breach of professional ethics.

Marcia Walden, a licensed counselor in Georgia, was fired for referring a lesbian client to someone better suited to help her. "Jane Doe" had approached Walden for counseling on her same-sex relationship, a request with which Walden recognized her own religious beliefs were in conflict. Rather than provide insincere counseling, Walden referred Jane to a colleague. That colleague commended her for doing "the right thing" by making the referral, but Jane later filed a complaint, and Walden lost her job.

Walden is, apparently, a licensed counselor in a state that is hardly friendly to gay rights. I’d imagine she might consider herself something of a health care professional. If her religious beliefs make it impossible for her to provide counseling to clients based on their gender orientation it’s clear she’s in the wrong line of work. Should religious bigots be putting out a shingle as a “counselor”? Again, would Jacoby think if she wanted to deny services to members of one of the classes covered under the Civil Rights Acts would he be pretending that she is a victim of religious persecution?

If these two examples don’t have you crying into your hanky, flannel or linen, he goes into the passion of “evangelical psychologist Neil Clark Warren”, the e-harmony mogul, pressured into providing his public accommodation on a non-bigoted basis.

Jacoby, pretending that these people are victims of the gay juggernaut is a lazy, dishonest play to the feeling of victimization that bigots always feel when their “right” to continue to discriminate is taken away from them. His act reminds me of the whining and sniveling among the fans of Don Imus during his all too short hiatus due to racism and sexism.

Jeff Jacoby, who has had a checkered history of journalistic ethics, is a pretty pathetic example of a columnist. His advocacy of liberties and civil rights is notably spotty as well. Just about all conservatives have no appreciation for the rights of anyone unassociated with themselves. The Boston Globe has a history of hiring some pretty doofy conservatives for its op-ed page and retaining them well past the point they’ve proven their being total meatballs. All I can say, doesn’t anyone edit that page? Shouldn’t Jacoby at least be held to account when he so blatantly mis-identifies his defense of bigotry as a defense of religious liberty? Why wasn’t Jacoby gotten rid of when he gave the Globe a perfect reason to fire his sorry self. Instead they’ve let go much better writers than he in the various buy-outs and down sizings.