Grappling with the Gray

Grappling with the Gray #74: The principle paradox?

December 20, 2023 Yonason Goldson Episode 74
Grappling with the Gray
Grappling with the Gray #74: The principle paradox?
Show Notes

Are some topic too hot to discuss? Not when we're Grappling with the Gray, they're not.

This is the challenge the ethics panel takes up when Jennifer Elder, Mark O'Brien, and Stewart Wiggins join me to confront the clash between professional responsibility and personal conviction.

Here is our topic:

In the infamous 1857 Dred Scott case, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 7-2 that a slave could not sue for freedom because slaves were not citizens but essentially property. Under the law, this was an entirely defensible position. 

Chief Justice Roger B. Taney personally opposed slavery; he even freed slaves he himself inherited. But he also believed the law was clear and that, as a justice of the court, he had a legal and moral obligation to interpret the law as it was written, regardless of whether he agreed with it or not.

Legal historians have largely cast the decision as villainous. But is it not a recipe for anarchy when government officers act according to their conscience rather than according to the law?

In 2015, a Kentucky county clerk refused to issue a same sex marriage license claiming that it violated her religious values. In 2017, acting Attorney General Sally Yates refused to defend an executive order imposing a temporary ban on refugees from countries connected with terrorist activity. Some legal authorities argued that Ms. Yates did not provide adequate justification for her refusal, failing to demonstrate or even claim that the order was unconstitutional. 

Not surprisingly, the same conservatives who applauded the Kentucky clerk for her act of conscience castigated Ms. Yates for hers; and the same liberals who cheered on Ms. Yates were outraged by the Kentucky clerk’s contempt for the law.

And for years, metropolitan mayors around the country have established sanctuary cities that refuse to enforce federal immigration laws.

We acknowledge the legitimacy of exempting conscientious objectors from fighting in war. Are public servants entitled to the same consideration? If so, how do we ensure that acting according to conscience does not contribute to a total breakdown of the rule of law?

Meet this week’s panelists:

Jennifer H. Elder, is a CPA and Certified Speaking Professional who helps leaders future-proof their businesses by making smart decisions and staying ethical.

🟦 Mark O'Brien is founder and principal of O’Brien Communications Group, a B2B brand-management and marketing-communications firm — and host of The Anxious Voyage, a syndicated radio show about life’s trials and triumphs.

Stewart Wiggins is Chief Advisor at Induna Advisors, working to significantly increase company revenue by developing positive client reports and establishing solid business relationships.

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