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Voter ID Laws

Warning: Please do not use my work and submit it as your own. Students have been caught plagiarizing from this site, and at least one university knows about this site due to that issue. This blog is not peer-reviewed, and thus is also not acceptable for scholarly research. Feel free to read the articles and papers here, but do your own research for your own schoolwork. Thank you!

Another warning: this post may not make a whole lot of sense in the later paragraphs due to the specific question that I was responding to, however, I believe the general idea is clear enough.

In 1965, part of the Civil Rights movement was to put into effect the Voting Rights Act.  This act was basically to restate the 15th amendment, that the “right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude” (LOC, n.d.).  Of particular note in the VRA are sections 2 and 5.  Section 2 prohibits practices that discriminate against race, color, or language minority groups, just like the amendment, and specifically deals with intent to discriminate. As shown by Village of Arlington Heights v Metropolitan Housing Development Corp. in 1977, the discriminatory effect alone is not sufficient to deem an action unconstitutional (Case Briefs, n.d.). Therefore, beyond the effect of discrimination, intent to discriminate must be proven. This case, despite having nothing to do with voting, provided the framework to determine whether intent to discriminate is part of the proposed legislation. Section 5, however, has some distinct differences. First, Section 5 consists of nine states, and parts of seven others, that have a history of voter discrimination.  I do not know how recent that history is supposed to be, but every state that had been in the Confederacy, with the exception of Arkansas and Tennessee, as well as embattled Arizona are on that Section 5 list.  There are two major differences in Section 5. First, every change of the laws regarding voting policy must be pre-approved by the US Attorney General before being put into place. Second, the law must show no discrimination in intent OR effect. This is where states like Texas and South Carolina have had issues. A law that works in Ohio may not work in Texas, or a law that works in part of California may not work in another part of the same state because Section 2 states must only satisfy “intent” while Section 5 states must satisfy both “intent” and “effect.” That should provide enough background information to understand why the law is so hotly contested in Texas and South Carolina while 31 states currently have ID laws, 15 of which require photo ID ((Herting, 2012).

Advocates of this legislation typically claim that it is to prevent voter fraud, and many of the states requiring ID have provisions that include free ID at DMVs or Department of Public Safety offices (KDH News, 2012; America Live, 2012). Opponents claim that there is no significant voter fraud, and that of the known cases, it has been supervisors and officials, not the actual voters who are performing the fraudulent actions (America Live, 2012; Yost, 2012). However, if IDs are not required, it would be near impossible to “prove” fraud without confession or otherwise monitoring the ballots, itself an ethical issue. The Huffington Post reported that Hispanics in Texas are between 50 and 200% more likely to lack ID than non-Hispanics, stating that this is a discriminatory effect (Yost, 2012). The DOJ says that the distance to the nearest ID facility, and the short hours of most ID facilities in Texas, particularly in the rural areas, makes the burden too great for these voters. Therefore, because Texas is a Section 5 state, and the effect of discrimination is claimed, this instance of identification law has the potential to be unethical. I believe that more research would need to be performed to determine the accuracy of the DOJ’s claims, considering the huge margin of potentially affected voters. Also, considering that IDs are required to drive, work, or even buy beer, it is hard to believe that law-abiding, voting citizens do not have some form of ID as is. Personally, my view on this matter is that the only people the concept of Voter IDs discriminates against are those who cannot legally obtain an ID because they are not citizens, and thus should not be permitted to vote anyway. That said, there are times that the implementation of an idea can stray from the ethical path, and that is something that must be guarded against. More information, beyond what is revealed in these news articles, is needed to determine the actual ethical component of the Texas ID law in particular, but the concept is sound for Utilitarianists: Nobody wants election fraud. The fact that voting under multiple names or dead people’s names is easy makes legitimate, law-abiding voters feel as though their voice does not matter in an election. After an election, the losing side (whether the Democrats in 2004 in Florida or the Republicans in 2008) will claim that the other is rigging the vote. Without such measures, there is no way to track fraud or prevent it. The greatest good for the greatest number would be to institute measures to restore confidence in our democracy, specifically in the electoral process.

It is 2012, and it would be very difficult to find anyone who will willingly stand up and say “I believe in discrimination based on sex, race, color, religion, etc.,” except maybe Fred Phelps of the Westboro Baptist Church. It is nearly universally condemned. However, there are a number of unintentional examples of discrimination that people face around the country. Some people cannot let go of old white/black animosity. Some people think anyone with brown skin is in America illegally. Some people think everyone who believes in Islam is out to destroy America.

Once again, I must refer back to the Navy, since it is the only group I have been a part of since graduating high school. The Navy officially has a policy of zero tolerance for a number of things, including sexual harassment and discrimination based on a number of factors. An example is when in training, I was the class leader, and the only female in the class of 20, and after telling a fellow student to return to his seat, he called me a derogatory term for “female.” Word got around to my instructor who asked me to come to his office. As I entered, the other student was standing at Parade Rest outside the door in his dress uniform- a sure sign that he was about to receive a serious butt-chewing. The instructor told me that he was going to be disciplined for insubordination (not listening when I told him to sit down) and disruption of the classroom. He then asked if I wanted to file sexual harassment charges for the slur he used. Officially, the Navy is proactive in addressing instances of discrimination. On the other side, after I was on a ship, I was one of three women in our division of near 90. Once you report, you are often branded a “slut” or a “b—-,” depending on whether you are friendly or not. I had a very tense relationship with one of my superiors in particular who constantly changed standards to exclude me, gave me stricter requirements to qualify than other sailors, required me to stay to perform menial tasks after releasing the rest of the sailors for the day, and went out of his way to look for ways to get me in trouble. I have strong suspicions that if those actions were not specific to my gender, then they were based on his suspicions about my personal life. When he finally did find a way to get me demoted, I wanted to appeal, but his boss (a Chief) told me not to. When the Chief was one day from transfer, he told me I should go through with my appeal. This, to me, says that the Chief knew I was being unfairly treated, but did not want it to tarnish his own reputation along with my supervisor’s. As a whole, what this tells me is that officially, on the grand scale, what may be stated as policy may not always translate to individuals with personal prejudices.

America Live. (2012, March 12). DEBATE: Are Voter Identification Laws Discriminatory. Retrieved April 26, 2012 from foxnewsinsider.com/2012/03/12/debate-are-voter-identification-laws-discriminatory
Case Briefs. (n.d.). Village of Arlington Heights v Metropolitan Housing Development Corp. Retrieved April 26, 2012 from http://www.casebriefs.com/blog/law/constitutional-law/constitutional-law-keyed-to-chemerinsky/equal-protection/village-of-arlington-heights-v-metropolitan-housing-development-corp-2/
Herting, K. (2012, April 12). DOJ Calls Texas Voter ID Law Discriminatory. Retrieved from jurist.org/paperchase/2012/04/doj-calls-texas-voter-id-law-discriminatory.php
KDH News. (2012, March 17). Voter ID Push Valid, despite Texas setback. Retrieved April 26, 2012 from http://www.kdhnews.com/news/story.aspx?s=65015
LOC. (n.d.). 15th Amendment to the Constitution. Retrieved April 26, 2012 from http://www.loc.gov/rr/program/bib/ourdocs/15thamendment.html
Yost, P. (2012, March 12). Texas Voter ID Law Blocked by Justice Department. Retrieved April 26, 2012 from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/12/texas-voter-id-justice-department_n_1339004.html

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04/26/2012 Posted by | College Papers, Learning | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Abortion: Murder or Right?

Warning: Please do not use my work and submit it as your own. Students have been caught plagiarizing from this site, and at least one university knows about this site due to that issue. This blog is not peer-reviewed, and thus is also not acceptable for scholarly research. Feel free to read the articles and papers here, but do your own research for your own schoolwork. Thank you!

 

Whether about the murder of an innocent or the right of a woman to decide what to do with her own body, the argument over abortion is long running, full of fallacy, and highly emotional. Logic will help wade through the charged terms and poignant testimony to determine the real issue at hand, and find an answer best suited for compromise and legislation. Using arguments from both sides, this paper will show why abortion, in the third trimester, is immoral and should be illegal.
The argument between “life” and “choice” is full of connotative terms that set up straw man fallacies on both sides. Even the terms the two sides call themselves, “pro-life” and “pro-choice,” insinuate that those in the other camp are “pro-death” or “anti-freedom,” respectively, and as such, this paper will refer to the two sides as “those who oppose” and “those who support” legalized abortion. Some of the most bumper-sticker worthy arguments are based on these straw men, such as “Abortion is murder,” and “My body, my choice.” When referring to the unborn, those who oppose legal abortion will say “unborn child,” “innocent,” and “victim” for empathy while those who support abortion will say “zygote,” “embryo” and “clump of cells” to dehumanize the fetus. This illustrates the great difference between the two camps: they view the potential person very differently. One views any unborn child as a person who is not born yet, but still worthy of the rights of a newborn, while the other views an unwanted fetus as part of the mother’s body, a burden, a parasite, “less than human but more than nothing” (Selley, 2011).

Other fallacies run rampant through the argument over abortion, including a false dichotomy and appeals to pity. The false dichotomy is one that is often seen in politics where each side believes that by giving any ground, the war will be lost. Thus those who oppose abortion argue for personhood at conception, while the those who support it argue for life at birth. Of course, science and reality do not fit either category, which will be explained later. Appeals to pity occur on both sides, though the person to be pitied changes. Those who oppose abortion beg for the life of an innocent victim who has not yet had the opportunity to experience the joy of life, and claim that abortion is selfish, particularly when couples are so willing to adopt who cannot have children of their own. They also mourn the well-being of the mother who kills her unborn child, and the guilt she is sure to bear throughout her life. Those who support abortion, on the other hand, mourn the mother almost exclusively. Her opportunities for education, employment, or even childhood are lost because of one mistake. The victim of rape must look at the evidence of her life’s most horrifying and tragic event growing within her, and the poor woman must endure pain and suffering to bring a child she cannot afford into the world only to give it away. There may be kernels of truth within each of these arguments, but they are not the base issue in the argument. Some, such as the child of rape, may provide contextual exemptions to the eventual legislation, but for the most part, they only muddy the waters as red herrings, rather than focusing on the real issue: when does personhood begin, and is it acceptable to kill an innocent person?

Argument one: “The presence of, or lack of, brain activity is an indicator of life or death. A fetus exhibits brain activity near the point of viability, at 24 weeks. Human beings only produce other human beings. Therefore, at 24 weeks, the fetus is a live human.” In this day of machine-assisted medicine, a body can be kept functioning beyond the point of death (Chiong, 2005). Increasingly, doctors are using the irreversible loss of brain activity as the point of death for their patients (Chiong, 2005). If the loss of brain activity indicates loss of life, it follows that brain activity means life. The scientific definition of life includes the ability to grow and gather or expend energy. At conception, the cell divides, and is scientifically alive. This is not debated. However, the debate usually revolves around what makes humans unique, what determines personhood, our consciousness, usually exhibited in our brain (Krause, 2011). With surgical procedures now being performed on fetuses in utero, doctors are now able to monitor them with EEGs. Surprisingly for some, the brain activity of a fetus in the third trimester is enough to consider it more than simply instinctual with voluntary breathing and the beginning of dreams (Rajeev, 2011). With this new information about the formation of the brain in utero, we can say that scientifically, life begins at conception, but personhood begins just before the third trimester.

Argument two: “A woman is an autonomous person with the moral capacity and the moral right to decide whether a pregnancy will be aborted or brought to term (Kissling, 2005). A woman has the right to choose what happens to her body. A fetus is a part of a woman’s body. Therefore, a woman has a right to terminate an unintended pregnancy.” This is the base argument for those who support abortion. While few would argue that a person should have the right to their own body, the biggest argument comes from the third premise. At conception, the embryo has its own DNA, separate from the mother. When the fetus’ heart starts beating, it pumps blood in its own cardiovascular system entirely separate from the mother. This also follows from a common sense idea of a person never having two brains, four lungs, or a woman never having male genitalia. Judith Thomson provided a thought experiment to assist in the visualization of this argument (Krause, 2011). If a woman wakes up in the hospital with a world-famous violinist attached to her kidneys, and she is told that the violinist cannot survive without her, is she morally or legally obligated to accept this? Of course, this hinges on the woman being completely unaware of the attachment, which only works when referring to victims of rape who become pregnant. Another stipulation was put on the experiment, adding that the woman was attending a party, knowing that someone with her blood type would be chosen to assist this violinist. This is supposed to simulate the knowledge that any sexual activity can result in pregnancy. Does the answer to the question of obligation change if she willingly attended this party with full knowledge that she may be chosen? Finally, the true litmus test is how the woman’s right to choose lines up against the fetus’s right to live. If the fetus is considered a person, such as in argument one, then it has an inalienable right to life, enshrined in our own Declaration of Independence. All rights stem from life, which indicates that the right to life is greater than the right to choose. In addition to this, one single choice wipes an entire lifetime of choices that will not be made by the aborted fetus. Therefore, the right to choose is an insufficient reason to justify killing an unwanted fetus.

Argument three: “The most likely people to have unintended pregnancies are in bad situations such as drug abuse, alcohol abuse, physical abuse, or poor economical standing. Children born into these situations will suffer as well. Therefore, it is more merciful to terminate unintended pregnancies.” Some people argue that abortion will prevent child abuse, and that an unwanted child is more likely to be abused, however, child abuse has increased since abortion was made legal (U.S. Abortion Statistics, 2011). This must be one of the worst arguments for proponents of abortion. It would be an incredibly cruel person to suggest euthanasia of all children in poor or abusive households, which is why we have social workers and foster care in the first place. Society as a whole would never accept killing children because of a situation they cannot control. If we accept that a fetus in the third trimester is the same as a child, from argument one, then the transitive property states that killing a fetus in the third trimester is cruel and unacceptable as well. This appears to be a case of trying to skew reality to fit a pre-determined world view.

Argument four: “Unintended and unwanted pregnancies occur. If safe and legal abortions are not readily available, women will resort to unsafe “back-alley” abortions. Therefore, to protect women, safe and legal abortions are necessary.” This is one of the more compelling arguments for abortion. There are no compelling and factual estimates for how many illegal abortions were performed in a period of time, or how many women died in the process because these procedures are never reported. However, if the standard of third trimester is adhered to, any woman who claims to “need” an abortion will have plenty of time to arrange one before the third trimester.

After twenty-four weeks, a fetus has brain activity sufficient to consider it a person. Various arguments try to muddy the topic or add complications to what is truly a simple question: Is it moral to kill a human being for what amounts to convenience’s sake? The answer is a resounding “no.” It is immoral to kill an innocent human being. A fetus in the third trimester is a human being. Therefore, it is immoral to perform abortions in the third trimester. Society, as a whole, must work to prevent abortion from being used as birth control. Estimates show that more than half of all women obtaining an abortion were not using birth control when they got pregnant, 47% of women obtaining an abortion have already had one or more, and 84% were performed on unmarried women, suggesting a use of abortion as birth control (U.S. Abortion Statistics, 2011). There are approximately 1.2 million abortions performed each year, and between 88 and 92% are performed in the first trimester, consistent with the current laws to prevent late-term abortions (U.S. Abortion Statistics, 2011). Perhaps if more emphasis was placed on safe sex, less promiscuity, and a sense of responsibility for one’s actions, the argument over abortion would not be so important.

References
Chiong, W. (2005, Nov-Dec). Brain death without definitions. Hastings Center Report 35(6) 20-30. Retrieved October 21, 2011 from Project Muse.
Kissling, F. (2005). Is there life after Roe? How to think about the fetus. Conscience, XXV (3), 10. Retrieved October 21, 2011 from ProQuest.
Krause, K. (2011). Abortion’s still unanswered questions. The Humanist, 71(4), 40-42. Retrieved October 21, 2011 from ProQuest.
Rajeev, L. (2011, September 22). Brain development in fetus. Retrieved November 4, 2011, from http://www.buzzle.com/articles/brain-development-in-fetus.html
Selley, C. (2011, August 31). Less than human, more than nothing. A debate about the selective abortion of twins has exposed the messy ambiguity in pro-choice ranks. National Post, A.15. Retrieved October 21, 2011 from ProQuest.
U.S. Abortion Statistics. (2011, November 5). Retrieved November 10, 2011, from http://www.abort73.com/abortion_facts/us_abortion_statistics/

11/12/2011 Posted by | College Papers, Learning | , , , , | Leave a comment

Ethics and Drug Testing Welfare Recipients

Warning: Please do not use my work and submit it as your own. Students have been caught plagiarizing from this site, and at least one university knows about this site due to that issue. This blog is not peer-reviewed, and thus is also not acceptable for scholarly research. Feel free to read the articles and papers here, but do your own research for your own schoolwork. Thank you!

 

Introduction

May 30, 2011, Florida Governor Rick Scott signed a bill mandating drug tests before welfare payments are received (Haughney, 2011).  The law is designed to prevent taxpayer money from funding drug addiction.  A recent poll offered minimal insight into the problem and asked if people supported it.  On the support side, the poll said the law would get abusers off drugs and onto more stable financial footing to assist TANF recipients in reentering the workforce, and gained sixty-eight percent of the vote (People support, n.d.).  On the negative side, detractors say it will cost more money and will not cause any change without even more money spent on treatment and rehabilitation, and only received twenty-seven percent of the vote, with five percent polling as “unsure” (People support, n.d.). There are several different ethical stands one could make on this issue, but the bottom line is that this bill does not address the myriad of problems that accompany it, and thus is unethical as a whole.  This paper will present the arguments from both sides, followed by an analysis from the utilitarian view, a response from the emotivist view, and a conclusion based on the author’s view.

Methods

This paper was compiled using secondary sources, including current news articles and sources retrieved from the Ashford University Online Library, using databases such as JSTOR and EBSCOhost.  Specific inquiries have been made into the recent Florida law, passed at the end of May, but other general inquiries have also been made to find information on previous, failed attempts and other states looking into the same process.

Argument for Drug Testing TANF Recipients

The argument for drug testing applicants for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) Program, often grouped into other assistance programs under the general descriptor “welfare,” stems from a general dissatisfaction with the current state of the TANF program.  The law aims to fix the program by preventing taxpayer money from funding drug addiction, protecting children in the households of drug abusers, and upholding the goals of the program by promoting better health and financial stability of applicants.

There are many who feel that it is immoral to use taxpayer money to fund illegal activity.  “While there are certainly legitimate needs for public assistance, it is unfair for Florida taxpayers to subsidize drug addiction.  This new law will encourage personal accountability and will help to prevent the misuse of tax dollars,” said a news release from Governor Rick Scott (Haughney, 2011).  TANF provides cash each month for assistance with non-food related costs, like utility bills, and the worry is that some people are buying illicit goods with that cash.  Jimmy Miller of Tampa seems to agree with this line of thought, saying, “It more or less enabled me” (Wright, 2011).  Mr. Miller was an addict who sold his food stamps for half price, spending that money, and his TANF pay, on drugs and alcohol (Wright, 2011).  This idea has popped up in several places around the country, introduced by Mele Carroll in Hawaii, Carl Wimmer in Utah, Craig Blair in West Virginia, and Kasha Kelley in Kansas, just to name a few (Montopoli, 2010; States consider, 2009).  To enforce this law, all adults over 18, and teen parents not living with a guardian, will be tested for drugs upon application for TANF (Bill Analysis, 2011).  The first time a person fails, that individual will be banned from payments for one year, or six months if they prove they have completed an approved treatment program since their positive test (Haughney, 2011; Bill Analysis, 2011).  The second time a person fails, that person’s benefits are removed for three years (Haughney, 2011).

Many of the recipients of TANF are children, and there has been some resistance to this plan because of the belief that the law will cause harm to these children.  However, with the wording in the bill, as well as collateral effects, advocates of the program say children’s welfare will be improved.  The bill itself includes a stipulation that if the parents of minors test positive for drugs, they can designate a person, who must pass a drug test, to receive the payment on behalf of the children, ensuring that the money will go through a responsible adult and still benefit the children (Haughney, 2011; Bill Analysis, 2011).  As Sid Dinerstein, chairman of the Palm Beach County Republican Party says, “If it separates an addict from public assistance, then it’s [sic] a benefit to everybody, including the children of the addict” (Haughney, 2011).  The idea is to get addicts to face their problems and seek treatment, helping the addict, the addict’s family, and society as a whole.

According to the Florida TANF website, the goals of the program are to promote two-parent, married families and assist with job preparation, with the intent of employment within two years (Florida TANF, n.d.; States consider, 2009).  The new law is attempting to assist in meeting these goals by helping addicts on welfare by promoting health and financial stability.  Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah relates this problem:

“Too many Americans are locked into a life of a dangerous dependency not only on drugs, but the federal assistance that serves to enable their addiction.  This amendment is a way to help people get off of drugs to become productive and healthy members of society, while ensuring that valuable taxpayer dollars aren’t [sic] wasted” (Montopoli, 2010).

Many private sector jobs are now requiring drug tests as a condition of starting work, and many government jobs, such as police and the military, require drug testing as well, so by ensuring people requesting TANF are clean, they are taking the first step towards employment (Smith, 2011).

Argument against Drug Testing TANF Recipients

The arguments against drug testing TANF recipients can generally be grouped into legality, cost, both to the participant and to the taxpayer, motivation, government intrusion, and other methods available to reach the same goals.

In 1999, the state of Michigan started a drug testing program, to which the ACLU responded with a lawsuit claiming infringement of Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizure, or a violation of privacy (Haughney, 2011).  In 2003, a federal appeals court ruled that universal testing was unconstitutional, so Michigan agreed to test only those recipients who were suspected of substance abuse (Haughney, 2011; Couwels, 2011).  With this precedent already set, the ACLU is claiming that the Florida law is also a violation of privacy, but supporters of the bill say that the appeal was determined by a tie vote, which is easily overturned by different judges (Greenblatt, 2010).  As Howard Simon, executive director of ACLU of Florida says, “Searching the bodily fluids of those in need of assistance is a scientifically, fiscally, and constitutionally unsound policy” (Haughney, 2011).

The bill stipulates that those recipients to be tested will pay for the drug test themselves (Bill Analysis, 2011).  This cost is stated to be about ten dollars per test, but can range up to seventy dollars (Haughney, 2011; Couwels, 2011).  Advocates of the bill say that the ten dollar charge will be refunded to the recipient if the test is returned negative, but detractors say that it is an unnecessary burden on people who are already in financial crisis (Haughney, 2011).  Frank Crabtree, the executive director of the West Virginia chapter of the ACLU says, “It’s [sic] an example of where you could cut costs at the expense of a segment of society that’s [sic] least able to defend themselves.” Michael Sheedy of the Florida Catholic Conference says that if the tests are made mandatory to receive assistance, the applicant should not fund them (Wright, 2011).  Combining the first two arguments, Berek Newton of the ACLU complains, “It’s [sic] like the government sending you a bill to violate your rights” (Couwels, 2011).

While the main argument for the bill is due to the misappropriation of taxpayer funds, some argue that the bill will actually end up costing the taxpayers more money in the long run.  The bill stipulates that while the tested person will pay the initial cost of the test, there is a refund to any person who passes the test (Bill Analysis, 2011).  The money to pay for these tests, then, has to come from somewhere.  The Welfare Reform Act of 1996 authorizes states to conduct drug tests on TANF recipients, but also demands that the money to perform the tests cannot come from TANF funding itself (States consider, 2009).  Arizona’s law, proposed by Senator Russell Pearce, specifies that the testing will be paid for by the Department of Economic Security (States consider, 2009).  Some are afraid the funding for Florida’s law will have to come from places like Medicaid, which would take money away from treatment of substance abuse, and thus be counter-productive to their supposed cause of eliminating substance abuse among welfare recipients (States consider, 2009).  Furthermore, since only a small percentage of 10-28% of TANF recipients have substance abuse problems (States consider, 2009), the ACLU says that drug testing itself will cost more money than what would be saved by eliminating addicts (Couwels, 2011).  Once a person fails the first test, a second test would need to be administered to eliminate the chance of false positives, then be admitted to treatment which could cost taxpayers as much as $20,000 or more (Greenblatt, 2010).

The fourth argument against the Florida law is the motivation behind the law.  Some argue that Governor Scott is politically showboating, or acting on some anti-poor bias.  The bill is only targeted towards welfare recipients, not all persons who receive financial aid from taxpayer funds, which may reveal a bias against poor people (Gov Scott’s, 2011).  This argument has also come up in Rhode Island, where Linda Katz, policy director of the Poverty Institute at Rhode Island College said, “The sponsor in our state said it was purely for cost savings [vice good intentions to get people off drugs].  This is really just designed to demean parents on welfare” (Greenblatt, 2010).  Mitch Ceasar, the chairman of the Broward County Democratic Party, said that the law was very “wrong-headed,” and was motivated by political grandstanding because Governor Scott had campaigned using this law as part of his platform (Haughney, 2011).

As a Republican governor with a Republican Senate, it is surprising to see that one of the arguments against the law is government interference and intrusion.  Typically, Republicans desire a smaller government that is relatively “hands-off” about individuals and their rights.  By forcing all recipients of TANF to take a drug test, government intrusion into individuals’ private lives increases (Gov Scott’s, 2011).  It also sets a dangerous precedent to allow the government to search without reasonable suspicion, which is exactly the reason for the 2003 appeal ruling against testing all welfare applicants (Couwels, 2011).  U.S. District Court Judge Victoria Roberts, speaking about the decision to overturn the Michigan case, said it “could be used for testing the parents of all children who received Medicaid, State Emergency Relief, educational grants or loans, public education or any other benefit from that State” (States consider, 2009).

Finally, many people say that this bill is unnecessary, either because it is a superfluous addition to existing measures, there are other options available, or because it does not solve the actual problem at hand.  Most welfare systems already have a step that checks for suspected users, such as past abuse history or current behavior, and refers those individuals to screening or treatment (Greenblatt, 2010).  Some states have rejected wholesale testing, possibly because of the failure of Michigan’s law, in favor of other methods like questionnaires, which the ACLU calls less expensive, less invasive, more effective, and more scientific (States consider, 2009).  In Arizona, each applicant answers three questions, and if any are answered “yes,” the applicant is sent to testing (Greenblatt, 2010).  In Indiana, all applicants sign a legally binding pledge to refrain from drug use while using unemployment benefits, and perjury results in three years imprisonment (Smith, 2011).  Meanwhile, Indiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, Wisconsin, and Virginia all tie eligibility to drug testing, but for parolees and felons only, assuming that they are the group most likely to abuse illegal drugs (Associated Press, 2009).  Christine Nelson, the program manager of National Conference of State Legislatures, says that it would be more effective and cheaper to assign case workers for interviews with the intent of discovering which individuals should be tested, as well as other obstacles to employment that could be discovered (Associated Press, 2009).  Malika Saada Sarr, executive director of The Rebecca Project for Human Rights, offered the following:

“The fatal flaw of such a policy is the absence of supports and guidance for mothers to enter into family-centered treatment programs.  Drug testing without supportive referrals to family treatment programs for vulnerable mothers and their children will not achieve family stability and child well-being outcomes” (States consider, 2009)

Ms. Sarr is one example of many who believe drug testing alone will not solve the problem of substance abuse, or even the problem with misappropriation of funding.

Most people will only identify with one or two arguments against this law, but the arguments include the violation of the Fourth Amendment, the cost to the applicant and to the taxpayer, the motivation behind passing the law, the addition of more government intrusion into the lives of individuals, and the availability of other, cheaper, more effective methods to reach the same goals.

Utilitarian View

Utilitarians focus on “the greatest good for the greatest number of people.”  In this case, the greatest number of people would be the taxpayers.  The greatest good for the taxpayers would be that their money would be used appropriately and effectively.  Governor Scott believes the most effective way to use taxpayer funds is to eliminate substance abusers from the system by administering drug tests to all recipients of TANF (Haughney, 2011).  If we assume the average TANF payment is about $200 per month, and the tests cost $10 per person, per month, the test becomes cost effective, assuming no additional funding for treatment, with only five percent failure.  The actual percentage of TANF recipients with substance abuse problems ranges from ten to twenty-eight percent, according to the Legal Action Committee (States consider, 2009), so it would seem the actual savings would be even higher.  Thus, according to this utilitarian view, the bill is ethical.

Emotivist View

Emotivists do not give reason for their judgment, but use their intuition and emotional response to guide their collective moral compass.  While advocates of the bill are angered by the thought of tax-funded substance abuse, the majority of the outrage and emotion comes from the other side.  With accusations of an anti-poor mentality and fear of government violation of privacy, an emotivist position may be against the bill.  Many may also recoil from the reduction of rights to a cost evaluation, or to the very idea of being monitored while urinating in a sample cup.

Conclusions

While initial response to the bill is positive, because nobody really agrees with tax-funded substance abuse, once the facts are all examined, it is difficult to support the bill on its own.  It is the author’s belief that some form of testing, to include people suspected of drug abuse, felons, and parolees, could be beneficial, but the wholesale screening of all persons applying for TANF is unnecessary, costly, and unwarranted.  Rather than forcing all applicants to pay for their test, and refunding the overwhelming number of clean test costs, it would be more efficient to collect the cost from people who fail.  Forcing innocent people, who are already requiring financial aid, to pay for a test they will pass is senseless.  The bill does seem to be cost-effective, bolstering the advocates, but it does not take into account the payment of treatment for those addicts.  In addition, all but the most severe addicts will likely be able to stop using before the test so they will test negative, then go right back to getting high.  It is also unlikely that an addict will knowingly answer “yes” to any question asking if they are abusers.  The Indiana plan, which gives addicts enough rope to hang themselves with, seems to be a good idea, adding prison time for perjury for any drug offense they commit in the future.  Overall, the plan to catch all addicts using a simple drug test does not seem feasible, while simultaneously subjecting a great number of innocent people to a test which can be humiliating.  The benefits do not outweigh the shortcomings, and thus, ethically, the bill is a failure.

References

Associated Press. (2009, March 26). States consider drug tests for welfare recipients. Retrieved      from http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,510707,00.html

Bill Analysis and Fiscal Impact Sheet. (2011, April 21). Retrieved from http://www.flsenate.gov/      Session/Bill/2011/0556/Analyses/DE82HEF0Z5HPhUw4OQagXLxJSLk=%7C7/Public/Bills/0500-0599/0556/Analysis/2011s0556.bc.PDF

Couwels, J. (2011, June 8). Florida to charge welfare applicants to take drug test. Retrieved from      http://politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com/2011/06/08/florida-to-charge-welfare-applicants-to-take-drug-test/

Florida TANF Program Assistance Overview. (n.d.). Retrieved June 8, 2011, from http://www.tanf.us/florida.html

Gov. Scott’s  drug-testing approach unfair, inconsistent (2011, June 2). South Florida Sun – Sentinel,B.2.  Retrieved June 11, 2011, from Sun Sentinel (Ft. Lauderdale). (Document ID: 2363720151).

Greenblatt, A. (2010, March 31). Should welfare recipients get drug testing? Retrieved from      http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=125387528

Haughney, K. (2011, May 31).  Scott signs law requiring drug testing for welfare recipients.  Sun Sentinel.  Retrieved from http://articles.sun-sentinel.com/2011-05-31/news/fl-florida-drug-test-for-welfare-20110531_1_welfare-recipients-tanf-recipients-new-law

Montopoli, B. (2010, June 16). Orrin Hatch calls for drug testing welfare recipients. Retrieved from http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-503544_162-20007929-503544.html

People support mandatory drug tests for welfare recipients. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.publicagenda.org/charts/people-support-mandatory-drug-tests-welfare-recipients

Smith, P. (2011, January 20). Welfare drug testing bills introduced in four states. Retrieved from      http://stopthedrugwar.org/chronicle/2011/jan/20/welfare_drug_testing_bills_intro

States consider drug testing for welfare recipients. (2009). Alcoholism & Drug Abuse Weekly, 21(8), 4-6. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.

Wright, K. (2011, April 15). Drug testing for welfare recipients? Retrieved from http://www.myfoxtampabay.com/dpp/news/state/drug-testing-for-welfare-recipients-041411

06/24/2011 Posted by | College Papers, Learning, Thinking | , , | 3 Comments

Ethics and the Death Penalty

Warning: Please do not use my work and submit it as your own. Students have been caught plagiarizing from this site, and at least one university knows about this site due to that issue. This blog is not peer-reviewed, and thus is also not acceptable for scholarly research. Feel free to read the articles and papers here, but do your own research for your own schoolwork. Thank you!

 

The next few blogs will be about Ethics and Society, where the last few have been about Ethics and Individual Rights. Today’s topic is the Death Penalty, and will be discussed from both sides with a deontological perspective. Deontology basically sets forth rules that should always be followed, the main, basic principle being the Golden Rule. As always, the first few sections will be notes from my textbook, with my additions in green, then under “My Thoughts” will be… you guessed it! My thoughts. The text I am using is:

Mosser, K. (2010). Ethics and Social Responsibility. (E. Evans, Ed.) Retrieved from https://content.ashford.edu/books/

The argument against abolishing the death penalty:

All humans have unalienable rights. Thomas Jefferson said they include “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” To murder someone is to deprive them of life, and society must punish the person responsible in a way to show its commitment to that right. If the punishment for murder is not harsh enough, it may seem that the government does not regard murder as a crime serious enough for the harshest penalty. The death penalty is the harshest punishment, and thus fits murder as the harshest crime. The murderer is punished, and the commitment to the right to life is upheld. The death penalty is actually a symbol for society’s respect for life, and of the humanity of both victim and murderer.

How? Because all members of society abide by the rules of that society. A murderer violates those rules, and thus shows he does not belong in that society. Thus, he has forfeited the right to live among others. At one point, the murderer had the same right to life, but by taking another’s, he has given up his right. By acting on the notion that the victim did not deserve to live, society must insist that the murderer forfeits his own right.

The death penalty sends a harsher message to those who may consider murder. It will prevent at least some potential murderers from acting on their desires. It is a deterrent.

-affirms the humanity of the victim and the murderer

-sends a message to the rest of society that by taking one life, you forfeit your own

-what punishment do you give someone who kill another while already in prison?

(I’d like to add that the death penalty, as a whole, is cheaper on tax-payers than keeping convicted killers in prison for life. There would be less over-crowding, less money spent on food, clothing, etc. It may seem harsh to bring the argument down to dollar figures, but let’s face it, once you are convicted of killing another human being, you are no longer afforded the privilege of being treated with dignity.)

The argument for abolishing the death penalty:

The death penalty reflects racial, class, and ethnic bias. It is too expensive. Innocent people have surely been executed. It isn’t effective as a deterrent. It is barbaric, and reflects poorly on the United States. Many religions and religious leaders reject it. But it all comes down to one question: is it morally acceptable to execute a human being?

If Thomas Jefferson is right, the right to life cannot be taken away. A murderer already has, but do two wrongs make a right?

If the state can be justified in taking the murderer’s life, then it is not unalienable. If the right to life is unalienable, then society is violating the murderer’s right. If killing a person is wrong, and the death penalty is intentionally killing a person, isn’t it also wrong? Or is the murderer no longer a human being because he has taken a life? The United States recognizes a murderer cannot be tortured because it violates his constitutional rights. Therefore, he is still a human being.

Instead of the death penalty, the penalty should be life without parole. It removes the murderer from society, protecting its members from threat. Life in prison, without parole, is as effective as the death penalty as a deterrent. It also avoids mistakenly executing an innocent person.

All human life deserves respect and dignity, no matter how evil or horrendous that person’s acts are. Society shows real respect for life by abolishing the death penalty. The death penalty is not required as a tool in the punishment box.

The Theories

Deontologists look at ethics in terms of rules, as opposed to consequences like utilitarians. A utilitarian may argue that the ends justify the means. A deontologist says the means are what matters.

The most famous deontologist was Immanuel Kant. He was a strong advocate of the death penalty. However, using the same logic and ethical view, many deontologists are against the death penalty.

Kant was a believer of retributivism- punishment should fit the crime, eye for an eye, life for a life, etc. By violating another’s right to live, the murderer forfeits his right to live. The act of murder is so fundamentally immoral that the murderer gives up his right to live. Execution, then, is not more murder but the consequence of the crime.

The Golden Rule says I shouldn’t kill someone if I don’t want someone to kill me, so the inverse should also be true. (A utilitarian would say that since the death penalty deters other murderers, it is the greatest good for the greatest number, and thus moral.) Since Kant is a deontologist, the deterrent part of the argument would have no bearing. He is only interested in the rules and means, not the eventual outcomes.

Other deontologists say Kant is correct in saying all humans have dignity that must be respected, but reject retributivism and say that the murderer also has dignity. To treat a person like an object is to treat another human as a means, rather than a person. Capital punishment is a means to an end (justice?), and we do not respect human dignity by killing other humans.

The main difference seems to be determining whether the murderer is still a human being. Kant believes the murderer has forfeited that part of his dignity/humanity by taking another life. The opposition says that murderers are still people.

My Thoughts

So in the last few paragraphs of the text, it mentions my earlier addition about cost-effectiveness. According to the text, it is actually more expensive to execute a person than to imprison them for forty years. I find this hard to believe because of guard salaries, food, over-crowding of the prison system, etc., but if it is true, it takes one of my main arguments away. At this website, the arguments seem to say that the reason the death penalty is so much more expensive is because the court costs are at least doubled, and the method of execution is expensive. If we were to execute by hanging or firing squad, it would be less expensive, but would likely be considered more barbaric.

I’ll admit that when I started reading this section, I was pro-death penalty. Most of that reasoning was because of the “eye for an eye” argument and the fact that (I thought) it is cheaper to take someone out of society permanently via execution than to house them somewhere for the rest of their lives.

It also goes on to compare the United States with other countries. England, France, Germany, and Japan have all abolished the death penalty, and are usually countries we like to associate ourselves with in terms of success. On the other end are states that advocate the death penalty- Iran, Congo, North Korea, and Yemen. Obviously there are many differences among all the countries listed, but it is interesting to point out.

Overall, I find myself newly conflicted. I’d thought about the fact that two wrongs don’t make a right, that we shouldn’t kill because a person has killed, etc. However, I also consider the fact that our prison system is extremely over-crowded. I suppose you could say I am a proponent of retributivism. I think we should find a way to make it less expensive than life imprisonment (and not by raising the cost of imprisonment). I really do find it extremely hard to believe that with all the costs associated, including new prison facilities and guard salaries when prison populations go up, that execution is more expensive.

Also, people who are sentenced to life in prison, without parole, are likely doing nothing for society, whereas society has to take care of them, provide food and shelter, and medical care, for the rest of their lives. They will never be a member of society again. Why delay the inevitable? I suppose I do believe that convicted murderers should no longer be treated with the same dignity of “normal” human beings.

Hello, my name is Jennifer, and I agree with the death penalty.

06/03/2011 Posted by | College Papers, Learning, Thinking | , , , | 2 Comments

Ethics and Workplace Rights

Warning: Please do not use my work and submit it as your own. Students have been caught plagiarizing from this site, and at least one university knows about this site due to that issue. This blog is not peer-reviewed, and thus is also not acceptable for scholarly research. Feel free to read the articles and papers here, but do your own research for your own schoolwork. Thank you!

I’m skipping a chapter that takes a historical look at the debate over women’s suffrage. Tonight’s chapter, then, is about the workplace and individual rights. Everything above “My Thoughts” comes from notes taken from the textbook, everything in green will be my personal commentary, and everything under “My Thoughts”… are my thoughts!

Once again, the textbook is:

Mosser, K. (2010). Ethics and Social Responsibility. (E. Evans, Ed.) Retrieved from https://content.ashford.edu/books/

The issue:

What legitimate restrictions an employer can put on a worker’s rights, and what limits there are to those conditions.

Argument for broad restriction of individual rights

The main job of a manager is to run a company smoothly and efficiently, create a return on investment, and create profit. A company that cannot create profit will not stay in business.  Anything that interferes with that job should be avoided by managers, or minimized as much as possible.

Employees have certain rights, guaranteed by the Constitution or by laws that cover both employees and employers. Employees cannot be expected to work where they are likely to be injured or killed. Employees cannot be expected to work overtime without compensation. Employees cannot be fired for refusing to break the law.

However, there are certain rights that may be restricted. A worker at KFC can have their free speech limited so that he cannot tell Church’s what the secret ingredients in the breading are. This information is called “proprietary information,” and consists of competitive advantages of one company over another. Federal agencies, like the FBI or CIA, can require secrecy from their agents. Airlines can require drug tests. School employees can be required to live in a specific area. Many corporations require employees to act in a manner that does not bring bad publicity to the employer. Obviously working in a place that requires such limits is voluntary. The employee does not have to accept the job, and if they cannot function under those requirements, they are free to leave. (Unless your employer is the Navy…)

“At will employees” may be fired without cause. If they are not working under written contract, or working for the government, they are typically “at will.” It is usually in the company’s best interest to keep workers satisfied, if not happy, to keep job satisfaction up, which keeps productivity up. Employees cannot be allowed to violate conditions of employment or prevent smooth operation of the company.

Example: Jim works for Random Work. He goes on his blog and rants about the crappy work conditions at Random Work, and publishes some critical letters in the paper. Now Random Work’s reputation is tarnished, and their competitors have a new weapon to use against them. Random Work’s profits fall, and Jim gets fired. Is that ok?

Jim was an “at will” employee, so termination doesn’t have to be justified. Even if it did, Jim was wrong to do damage to the company, especially how he did it. So which is more important? Jim’s right to free speech, or the company’s right to maintain a profit? Not only was the company damaged, but all the employees of that company and all the investors in that company were as well. Such restrictions are legitimate and justified to “protect the company’s reputation, profitability, and responsibility to stockholders. ”

Argument for narrow restriction of rights

Workers have rights guaranteed by the Constitution and by labor law. Those rights cannot be violated without proof that restrictions are absolutely necessary for the company to function.

There are still some legitimate restrictions. An employee has no right to divulge proprietary information to a competitor. National security and public safety are also concerns that a small number of workers may have to be restricted to protect. Pilots do not have the right to fly while impaired, so drug tests have been demonstrated to be legal in court. The burden of proof is on the employer to show a legitimate and substantial need for restriction of rights. If they cannot, all “at will” employees retain all rights guaranteed them by the Constitution and all relevant state and federal laws.

Example: Susan lives in a small town with few jobs. She is interviewed by a local nonprofit agency that promotes strict gun control. Susan’s family hunts regularly and owns several shotguns. The agency offers her a job, with the stipulation that she does not own guns, and that she disposes of any that she does own. The agency is worried about the image portrayed if a member does not live by the same lifestyle it is promoting. Can it demand Susan’s agreement?

Susan’s choice is between taking the job, but having what she sees as her 2nd amendment rights violated, or not taking the job and placing her finances in jeopardy. (But not the game show, because that would be awesome!) There is extra pressure on her because there are no jobs in a small community that is already struggling in the current economy.

This is a plausible reason for restriction of rights, even outside the workplace. However, there is worry that those conditions go farther than what is legitimate, and cannot be shown to lead to company damage.  In the current economy, the danger of companies overstepping their bounds is even higher, since companies know the likelihood (or lack thereof) an employee would be able to find another job. This fear of being unemployed for an extended amount of time may lead some employees to accepting heinous conditions just to maintain a steady paycheck. This could easily lead to abuse of the worker’s rights.

Applying Theories

In legalese, a company is considered a person. Thus, a corporation can be held up to “virtue ethics.” Virtue ethics holds the ideal virtuous person up as a role model for all others to be judged against (sort of like the Christians’ “What would Jesus do?”). So what is the ideal virtuous corporation?

The number one focus of any corporation is profitability. However, acknowledging this goal, it must meet the needs of its employees, stockholders, investors, the community, and any other support mechanisms. A virtuous company “lives” by a Golden Mean, a good balance between all its virtues. A “good” corporate citizen is generous and charitable, supporting charities and other philanthropic work, but cannot give away more than it earns. The company must maintain a balance between worker happiness and profitability. Pay must be competitive, or workers will leave. If pay is too high, it reduces profit. Rights are also in balance. They need to be fair to workers, but also minimize potential damage to the bottom line.

Companies should be honest, with both employees and the community. Lying, cheating and stealing are never acceptable, while too much honestly could lead to competitive advantages being squandered.

Virtue ethics: striking a balance between all virtues to be the best well-rounded person possible.

Deonotology is a Golden Rule school of thought. The fundamental purpose of any company, again, is to carry out its mission, whether for profit or non-profit. There are certain rules that must be followed in pursuit of this mission: treat employees, community, and even competitors with respect. Do not develop strategies or policies that you would determine to be unfair if they were used against you. If an employer wants to develop a set of rules, would he mind working under them as well? People who demand drug tests are typically willing to follow them, so they suit the Golden Rule.

How does the Golden Rule fit unions, specifically the requirement to join a union (or not join a union)? This demand could not be universalized (everyone has to join a union, or nobody can join a union), so it seems morally wrong to demand membership (or non membership) in a union, at which point the notion of a union is pointless.  It is also possible that the employers who force membership (or non-membership) would not be willing to work under those conditions, so it does not meet the Golden Rule test.

Therefore, a deontologist would determine that any restriction that cannot be universalized or conflicts with the Golden Rule is unfair, unjust, and immoral.

Some Conclusions

The virtue ethicist and deontologist don’t really disagree- they both agree that some restrictions are necessary to maintain competitive advantage over other corporations, and that the main goal in a company is to make profit. The argument comes from where along the slider a company has the right to limit individual rights.

Example: Random Arms gets most of its profits through government contracts, and has a close relationship with Senator Smith. Senator Smith is from the state where the corporate HQ is located. Senator Smith tries to reward Random Arms with government contracts whenever he can influence the outcome. The company and Senator are mutual beneficiaries of their relationship. Senator Smith is up for reelection, and the CEO of Random Arms is the director of his campaign. Anne works for Random Arms, and is a supporter of Senator Smith’s opponent. She contributes money and quite a lot of time, outside work, to the opponent’s campaign. What can the company do about this?

Can the CEO ask Anne to remove a political sticker from her cubicle? Can he ask her to remove her bumper sticker, since her car is in the company parking lot? When a company picnic/Senator Smith fundraiser is planned, attendance is $25, and clearly attendance is not required, but expected, should Anne refuse to attend even though she feels she will be passed up for promotion if she does?

My Thoughts

I must admit, I’m not really sure where the line is supposed to be drawn between the two arguments. Obviously it makes sense that companies should be able to protect their secrets. My default, as I’ve said before, is to lean towards more freedom, more individual rights, and less restriction, which to me is the common sense answer in most cases. I suppose I would need a particular example to really choose a side. For Anne, I think she should be able to express her political views as she wants to, within certain common sense limits. For example, when I was in the Navy, I was allowed to say that I support one candidate over another, however, I was not allowed to go on TV in my uniform and say the same thing, because it would appear as though the Navy was endorsing a particular candidate. We were not allowed to march in protests or anything else like that while in uniform, or really identify ourselves with the military. I think that makes sense. You shouldn’t shop in Target wearing your Wal-Mart greeter vest. I don’t see a problem with the bumper sticker or cubicle sticker because it is private or within the realm of the company itself. Outsiders don’t see her cubicle, and can’t see her disapproval. 

As for Susan (and the example about joining an animal rights group and having to give up eating meat), I would have to be in some pretty severe conditions to take a job that goes against what I believe. I wouldn’t take a job with Greenpeace, PETA, Planned Parenthood, or any anti-gun organizations, just because I know I wouldn’t be able to keep that job for long anyway. I’d be way too tempted to mouth off about my personal views, and the likelihood of being fired would go up daily. Don’t work for companies if you don’t agree with them. It is a recipe for personal disaster.

05/29/2011 Posted by | College Papers, Learning, Thinking | , , | 4 Comments

Ethics and Prayer in Public Schools

Warning: Please do not use my work and submit it as your own. Students have been caught plagiarizing from this site, and at least one university knows about this site due to that issue. This blog is not peer-reviewed, and thus is also not acceptable for scholarly research. Feel free to read the articles and papers here, but do your own research for your own schoolwork. Thank you!

Day Two of my ethics reading. I’ll present the arguments as they are explained in my textbook, and at the end, I’ll provide my personal thoughts on the matter. Interspersed are green words in parentheses that indicate my words, vice the words of the text. Again, the textbook I am taking notes from is as follows:

Mosser, K. (2010). Ethics and Social Responsibility. (E. Evans, Ed.) Retrieved from https://content.ashford.edu/books/

The issue:

Whether organized prayer should be allowed in public schools, and distinguish between allowing prayer and promoting prayer.

The argument for allowing prayer:

For a religious or spiritual person, the relationship between himself and God is “the most precious relationship of all.” To respect that relationship, our First Amendment prohibits any interference with religion. Prohibiting school prayer is prohibiting the free exercise of one’s religion. (First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”) It follows, then, that eliminating prayer from public schools is wrong and unconstitutional.

Many religious values, like honesty, charity, and nonviolent problem solving, are important to society, and public schools should reinforce those virtues. Reinforcing moral lessons can reduce teenage pregnancy, STDs, gang violence, and drug/alcohol use.

The argument is not to force a specific view (which would violate the 1st Amendment and the Establishment Clause), but provide voluntary prayer for those who want to participate. For example, the Golden Rule is found in many religions, in many cultures, and is fundamental to “good” society.

History and current practice are in line with this argument: for 200 years, public schools allowed voluntary prayer. Thomas Jefferson refers to the Creator in the Declaration of Independence (one of my personal, favorite arguments to bring up about whether this country was founded on Christian values). The Senate and the House both maintain a chaplain, who opens sessions with a prayer. Money says “in God we trust”, the Pledge of Allegiance says “one Nation, under God,” and American presidents usually end speeches with “God Bless America.” (Our graduation at boot camp and most major military ceremonies also opened with  “Let us pray,” where even if you were not religious, you were still to bow your head for the duration, due to being in military formation) Most (sane) people don’t see these as violations of the First Amendment.

Preventing prayer in public schools (or any other public place for that matter), is to require people to follow the dictates of the non-religious minority (over 70% of Americans claim to be religious). Short prayers at ceremonies or other large get-togethers (football games and assemblies) remind students of moral values and reflect the wishes of a large part of the student body in most public schools. To prevent it is against their wishes, the wishes of their parents, and the Constitution itself. Denying the opportunity for prayer prevents moral lessons from being reinforced in children who need it, ignores our history, and conflicts with a large majority of the population’s desires.

The argument against prayer in public schools:

The United States is very diverse in many ways, including religion. All Americans have a right to religious expression, or no expression for atheists. To impose prayer on those who do not pray is to violate their rights.

Prayer at a ceremony or game may seem innocent, but if the prayer specifies a particular belief of God, it does not fit all religions. On the other hand, if it is vague and general, it doesn’t really serve a purpose, and will still single out some students who do not share that view. If prayer is included at mandatory events, the prayer is not voluntary. Also, students are very much influenced by peer pressure, and may not bring up alternative views for fear of embarrassment. They would rather “belong” than leave a venue due to prayer, so the prayer is not truly voluntary.

Public schools should not impose specific religious values on students. Schools can teach the history of religion, the differences in religion, and its role in society, but may not endorse one over another. Our public school system is failing, and students are achieving less academically than students in other countries, so the time spent in prayer and specific religious viewpoints would be better spent on the educational mission.

Many parents prefer to leave specific religious and moral education off the curriculum. Many religious parents do not want religion taught in public school so that those ideas do not conflict with what they are teaching their children at home and in the church- where religious teachings are appropriate.

“The Constitution does not allow public schools to promote any specific religion or religious viewpoint.” Any prayer in public school would either violate this ideal, or be so vague it is pointless. No view can encompass all religions as well as atheists, and schools have more important things to spend time on. Many parents do not want their religious views conflicted at school, and prayer in public schools cannot be seen as voluntary. Therefore, prayer in public schools should be prohibited.

Application of Theories:

The utilitarian view is “do the greatest good for the greatest number,” but what is the greatest number?

There is a saying “As long as there are math tests, there will be prayer in school.” This says that individuals cannot be prevented from engaging in private prayer. Such prayer is voluntary. The Supreme Court has also ruled that students may organize voluntary religious clubs, which can include prayer and Bible study, at public schools, like any other club.

This is the difference between allowing prayer and promoting prayer.

Act Utilitarianism

In a given school, district, or community, it is likely that a majority of its members belong to a specific faith. The greatest good for the greatest number, then, would be to allow that majority to pray how they wish. To prevent this is to hold the majority hostage to the will of the minority. It is clear that the greatest good for the greatest number means allowing the majority to practice their faith the way they choose.

Rule Utilitarianism

Not only are the minority’s views being ignored, but many in the majority will be upset with the fact that the minority are not being accounted for. This brings down maximum happiness (or utility), so the greatest good for the greatest number would prevent organized prayer.

Some (Textbook) Conclusions:

Religion is very personal. It is often a cornerstone of a person’s understanding of himself. Because a person can define himself by his religion, that person may feel his rights are restricted when he is not free to express his beliefs when he desires to. It is unlikely, however, that all people, of all faiths, and non-faiths, will be happy with any outcome.

Thinking about the issue legally and generally, people are paying more attention to the “voluntary” part of prayer. Individuals cannot be prevented from praying in public schools. Religious clubs cannot be denied. These are both voluntary acts. However, school-sanctioned events, like football games and graduation, are usually seen as “inappropriate locations” for prayer, because it automatically means the school is endorsing that view. Insisting on general prayers tends to make the prayer pointless to those who feel strongly about their beliefs.

There is no answer that will please everyone, but the two words to really learn from this debate are “sensitivity” and “tolerance.”

What Would You Do?

“You are a high school principal, and some students want to organize a school club devoted to studying and discussing atheism. You are concerned that they may spend some of their time mocking the beliefs of other students. Some of the students in your school have already expressed to you their concern that such an officially recognized student group represents a view that many find offensive.

“Do you allow the students to organize the atheist club? What restrictions, if any, do you impose on what they can do and say? What do you say to parents who call to protest the existence of such a club?”

My thoughts:

When I was in school, we had thirty seconds of silence after the Pledge of Allegiance. You could pray, you could study, you could do whatever you wanted, as long as you were quiet. It was a time for reflection, and a pause in the beginning of a hectic day. There was a guy in my first period class who used to say the Pledge with “under Gods.” I think he did it as a joke, but I didn’t take offense to it. There were some who would refuse to say that line altogether. Now, there are some kids who don’t even want to stand or put their hands over their hearts. That’s a different issue for a different day though.

Of course, especially growing up, I didn’t consider myself religious. I knew the thirty seconds was “supposed” to be for prayer, but that didn’t mean I had to pray. I didn’t take offense to it either. Everybody, whether Christian, Muslim, or atheist, can take thirty seconds out of their day to think. I think this is a perfect way to satisfy most people.

I know the text is specifically talking about during ceremonies and such, but why can’t any prayer be replaced by a moment of silence? Those who wish to pray, can. Those who don’t, can just wait. It is respectful to those who wish to pray to stay silent. I think respect is a big piece of the puzzle that seems to be missing in our society today.

If everybody treated everybody else with the respect they expect, I think there would be fewer issues in this world. Christians, or more generally, religious people, are the majority, and for a reason. I am not saying that the rights of minorities should be ignored, but I do not believe that ninety-nine people should be denied their wishes because the one doesn’t like it. I don’t like the minority taking the majority hostage.

In this particular instance, I think a moment of silence is the “right” thing to do.

As for the atheist club, I don’t think it would be appropriate to prevent the club. As far as I am aware, all school-sanctioned clubs had to have a teacher present, though. If they had an instructor, they’d be allowed to have a club, just as a Christian group would, and that is exactly what I’d tell concerned parents. The instructor would be expected to maintain civility and respect in the club, just as any other club would be expected to do. I wouldn’t allow another group to be disrespectful of any other, so this group would be the same. Respect and civility towards all.

05/27/2011 Posted by | College Papers, Learning, Thinking | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Ethics and the 2nd Amendment

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The next five weeks of my life will be spent in an Ethics class, and we will be swiftly covering many hot-button topics in politics. What better way to take notes for class and formulate my own ideas than by sharing with all of you?

The text is:

Mosser, K. (2010). Ethics and Social Responsibility. (E. Evans, Ed.) Retrieved from https://content.ashford.edu/books/

The Second Amendment to the Constitution of the United States (part of the Bill of Rights) reads: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” The odd capitalization and punctuation are in the original.

The argument against restrictions: 

The Constitution specifically says people have the right to “keep and bear Arms.” This means that there should be few restrictions on what is seen as a constitutionally protected right. We should look at restrictions to this Constitutional right the same way we look at restrictions to free speech, only needing to be limited to guarantee public safety. Just like freedom of speech, the only regulations should be those that have “overriding public interest,” explained to be for the good of the vast majority of the public. However, these restrictions should be “absolutely minimal” and “absolutely necessary.”

Beyond the Constitution, our history also gives good reason to have few restrictions on individuals’ rights to own guns. The Revolutionary War was won by farmers and other civilians who were comfortable enough around, and knowledgeable enough about, guns that they could wield them against the enemy.   We may not have to worry about another nation invading us (we hope), but what about home invaders?  Americans have the right to defend themselves and their families, as well as their homes.

In addition to self/home defense, many Americans shoot for sport. Target shooting, skeet shooting, hunting, etc., are all lawful ways to use guns. According to the text, Americans own an estimated 250,000,000 guns, and more than 25% of Americans live in a household that possesses a firearm. (My household has five.)

Most people agree about certain restrictions, such as prevention of gun ownership by convicted felons, and those with a documented history of criminal violence. Many will also agree that anyone with documented mental illness that may inhibit the ability to realize when gun use is in appropriate should not have access to deadly weapons. However, many people are wary of giving government too much control, and say that allowing restrictions today means allowing greater restrictions in the future.

Imposing “unjust” restrictions on law-abiding citizens is unconstitutional and only hurts the people who have lawful, legitimate, interest in gun ownership, whether for sport or self-defense. Criminals care about gun laws as much as they care about the other laws they are breaking.

The argument for restrictions:

Sixty-eight percent of the people murdered in America in 2005 were killed with guns. Thirteen people were killed at Columbine with guns. Thirty-two people were killed at Virginia Tech with (a?) gun. Ten people were killed by the DC snipers. Sixteen were killed in Dover, Arkansas. Thirteen were killed in Wilkes-Barre, PA. Eleven, including the killer, were killed in Geneva County, Alabama.

NY Times writer Bob Herbert says: “Since the assassinations of Senator Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968, more than a  million Americans have been killed by guns in the U.S.. That’s more than the total number of U.S. combat deaths in all the wars in American history.”

There are many guns in the U.S., and they are easy to get. In some states, the minimum age is twelve for purchase of a firearm. Background checks and waiting periods don’t work as intended. Easy access to conceal-able weapons has led to a culture in the U.S. that leads the developed world in violent crime and murder. Reasonable restrictions, like substantial background checks, waiting periods, trigger locks, etc., as well as limitations on the kinds of weapons and ammunition available, are necessary to stop this assault. The 1980s and 90s saw an increase in controls on gun ownership, and a corresponding drop in violent crime.

In Miller v. United States (1939), the Supreme Court ruled that the Second Amendment clearly means the right of well-regulated Militias, not individuals. (There is a later conflicting ruling as well.)

“Supporting substantial restrictions should not be regarded as an illegitimate attempt by an oppressive government to seize all guns.” Background checks, trigger locks, and limits on types of weapons and ammunition do not prevent law-abiding citizens from sport shooting, hunting, and self-defense. They do minimize access by criminals, the insane, and “others who should not have access to deadly weapons.”

The Theories:

Utilitarian view (Greatest Good for the Greatest Number):

A fundamental duty of a government is to maintain the security and safety of the governed. Potentially violent intruders and oppressive governments are both threats to that security. The “Greatest Good” is the feeling of security and confidence that is gained from the knowledge that they have a weapon to defend themselves with. Robbers face significantly more risk breaking into an armed home than an unarmed home. If a robber believes you may be armed, and pose a threat to him, he may rob a different house, or give up crime (though that is not incredibly likely). Thus, people with guns, who know how to use them, feel safer in their own homes. If criminals fear home-owners with guns, crime, theoretically, would go down because the benefits of the items stolen would not outweigh the risk of loss of life. Restricting weapons means the risk for robbers drops markedly, and crime would rise. Therefore, the “greatest good for the greatest number” would be minimal restrictions. Following that, restrictions must be proven to increase public safety and security, such as preventing actual criminals and mentally incapable people from owning guns.

The relativist view (people in different cultures view things differently, so what might be wrong to one group may be right to another):

In Nigeria and the Philippines, gun ownership is 1% and 4.5% respectively. In Switzerland (yeah, the “neutral” guys) it is 50%. The United States has the highest rate- 90 guns for every 100 people. Some cultures have few guns because they didn’t play an important part in that culture’s history. (Try taking a samurai sword from a Japanese guy, though… yikes!) Some cultures, like ours, have guns in an important part of our history, like the Revolution and Westward Expansion. Beyond saying “neither is right or wrong,” relativism is fairly useless in solving moral dilemmas.

(At this point, I am surprised that they don’t offer an example of a specific theory of ethics that would be for restrictions…)

Some conclusions:

When does one person’s right to possess weapons infringe on another person’s right to keep their children safe? Some restrictions are actually relatively popular- like those on fully automatic weaponry and “cop-killer” armor-piercing rounds. 

My thoughts:

When in doubt, I err on the side of less legislation, less restriction, less government, less interference, more personal responsibility. As a whole, I am against restrictions on gun ownership. I do not personally own a gun, but my father had them growing up, my husband owns several, and my grandfather had a case of hunting rifles in his den. I know how to shoot, and I have been to a gun range to practice on occasion. I think that first and foremost, to own a gun, people should know how to handle it. If I didn’t know how to use a gun, I wouldn’t pick it up (unless it was a life-or-death-armed-robbers-at-my-daughter’s-door sort of situation).

Education is one of the most important aspects of gun ownership. Simple things like always treating a gun like it is loaded, never pointing it at anything you don’t want to kill, and don’t shoot yourself cleaning it (you know who you are…). Obviously you should keep your firearms in a place where children cannot access them, preferably a safe or other secure location. However, this all falls under personal responsibility. If you need the government to tell you not to let your kids play with your guns, you probably shouldn’t have kids in the first place.

Also, just because some yuppie in a New York city apartment feels he doesn’t need a gun doesn’t mean the guy in Alaska or Montana who hunts for food, or doesn’t have a police officer within 15 minutes of his house, doesn’t need one. I do feel safer in my home because I know we have firearms. Guns are the only weapons in the world that favor the victim. It levels the playing field between invader and defender, and it may give someone pause before breaking into your home.

When we lived in Virginia, we lived in a not-so-great neighborhood. My husband used to go target shooting frequently with a rifle on his shoulder, two pistols, and two cases of ammunition. The neighborhood kids referred to him as “the sniper guy.” As soon as you entered the apartment, there were two human targets on the wall- one  a close range shotgun blast with the center torn out, the other a long-range rifle target with neat holes in center mass and the head. You can bet if someone was getting robbed in that neighborhood, it wasn’t going to be us.

I agree that people with violent crime or mental illness documented should not have firearms. I also agree that people should not have ready access to, say, bazookas. However, I do believe that you should be able to have a permit for pretty much any type of firearm, if your location supports it. I see no reason why you shouldn’t be able to go out to the middle of the desert and fire off an AK-47. What is it hurting? The dirt? Properly used, properly trained, firearms can be fun. That doesn’t mean killing people. One of my dad’s favorite arguments about gun control is, “It’s already illegal to kill people.” We don’t have to make it “more against the law” to kill people with guns.

WARNING: I found this picture while Googling gun images, and could not pass up the opportunity to spread it further… but if you have a weak stomach, just ate, or get easily disturbed, avert your gaze. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

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05/26/2011 Posted by | College Papers, Learning, Thinking | , , , , , | 5 Comments