Moral Conflicts

September 28, 2011

Dirty Hands, Political Theory


The first term paper I wrote in graduate school — back in, um, fall 1992 — was on moral conflict. Moral conflict generally means situations in which morality seems to demand opposite things. One of the most gripping is the so-called dirty hands problem, where someone — usually a political actor — has to do something that is wrong to do what she thinks is the right thing. Send soldiers to certain deaths to protect the rest of the population, torture someone to find out where a ticking bomb is hidden, destroy a bit of the environment to increase economic production. That sort of thing.

Moral conflict can arise in other ways, too. Today’s New York Times reported on the

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latest version: since the state of New York allowed same-sex marriage, some officials involved in issuing marriage licenses have refused to do so, on the basis of their moral principles. The Times goes further than just calling it a moral conflict. They elevate it to a clash of rights. What’s the difference? A big political one: the modern state is not in the business of enforcing morality, but it is in the business of protecting the rights it has granted its citizens. Here, at issue, at least on some people’s framing, is the new equal right of same-sex couples to get married, and the right to the freedom of religion. Rose Marie Belforti, the town clerk in Ledyard, N.Y., claims the state’s demand that she issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples violates her right to free exercise of religion — and, we might want to specify, her right to believe in a particular way — which in her case involves regarding homosexuality as an abomination and sin.

My own immediate reaction is to agree with Gov. Andrew Cuomo that this position is a non-starter. According to the Times piece, he said, “When you enforce the laws of the state, you don’t get to pick and choose.” I might also march forth Immanuel Kant and his argument in “What Is Enlightenment?” about role differentiation: if you have taken up an official position of some kind — a soldier, clergyman, tax collector in Kant’s examples, a town clerk in ours — you’ve agreed to abide by the obligations imposed by that office. That doesn’t mean, though, Kant argued, that you can’t take up a different position in another context. Kant called it the role of a “scholar,” but he didn’t just mean academic eggheads: anyone who participated in public debate just as him- or herself, relying on the power of the better argument, was a scholar.

If Gov. Cuomo wanted, he might cite a famous and in many ways commendable example: his own father. Mario Cuomo, a devout Catholic, regards abortion as impermissible. But as Governor of New York, back in the late 1980s and early 1990s, he was committed to upholding women’s right to abortion. Being able to separate one’s personal commitments from the obligations of a role is an important feature of modernity and, one might argue, even an implication of John Locke’s A Letter Concerning Toleration.

But it’s not quite that simple, after all. Maybe the New York case is, as I am inclined to think, but you might disagree. But consider this: even if we want to insist on the importance of role differentiation — uphold the law of the land as a town clerk, criticize it to your heart’s content, even publicly, when you’re not on the clock — surely we don’t want public officials to abandon their entire moral compass when they come in office. And if you don’t share Belforti’s moral conflict, consider, say, a devout Catholic who opposes the death penalty, as the Catholic church does. Should she not be a police officer or a prosecutor in a death penalty state? Or refuse parts of her job if she does? Or a pacifist, whatever his grounds: should he not be a civil servant in a country that has a military?

My paper on moral conflict, back in 1992, wasn’t all that successful, but I now think it’s because moral conflict is an even tougher problem than I thought back then.

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About Mika LaVaque-Manty

I'm a professor of political science at the University of Michigan. I'm a philosopher by training, and I teach political theory.

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37 Comments on “Moral Conflicts”

  1. jacobdockser Says:

    When it comes to moral conflict I feel that when people take jobs working for the government (the public sector) they must be prepared to do things against their will. As we talked about in the post about Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, soldiers sometimes have to act in the name of the United States Military even if they personally have different feelings on the issue or situation. Similarly, I’m sure a police officer has come into a situation where they want to turn the blind eye (and I know some do) but due to their job as law enforcement they have to take the person, whether it be a friend, child, or a unknown person, to jail.

    In simple terms, im trying to say that working when you take a job as a prosecutor, a police officer, a DMV worker, meter maid, or solider you work FOR the Government. When you are not working you can believe anything and do as you wish. However, when you are being paid by the government, who is funding by its citizens, you must take the position of the government and disregard your personal beliefs and act on the governments beliefs.

    Just like any worker, you must abide by your employers rules and regulations. Whether it is to ticket those who are driving over the speed limit or to issue wedding certificates to a same-sex couple, you must do what your job says you should do.

    • zekeharris Says:

      I fully agree with jacobdocker but moral conflicts include but are not limited to people who hold government jobs. Anyone who has a job to do whether it be in athletics, a bag boy, or taxi driver unless it is in the description of your job how you feel about a certain situation does not have to be taken into account by your superior or the laws/rules that govern you. While this may be blunt I believe it to be entirely true. I’m sure it is hard for some people to bow down and put their opinion in the back ground.
      Is it possible that our views are not as cemented as we believe once we hear the other side? I will be brief but this question makes me wonder if by not letting others pick and choose what rules to follow or not is a way of hopefully getting the people in that community to come to a closer consensus. Now I may be wrong (or right for that matter), but I think having these questions asked will help us look and discuss both sides of the issue. Being able to recognize that the opinion we hold should be open to be tested as John Stuart Mill argues in his essay On Liberty can help mankind come to a hopefully more “true” answer.

    • marckarpinos31 Says:

      While reading Professor LaVaque-Manty’s post I was in agreement with your stance in the sense that it if it is your job to write someone a marriage certificate, you have to complete that job despite your opinions or stance. In this specific post I was in agreement with you that from Gov. Cuomo’s father upholding abortion rights to Belforti, the town clerk in Ledyard, N.Y. when you sign up for a job in the government, you have to act in the best interest of the people.

      With that being said after reading your post I had a small change of heart specifically at the end of the first paragraph when you discuss a police officer and their desires to turn a blind eye. A few of my good friends from high school have parents who work for the local police force and it is there eventual goal to do the same. One even acquired a job this past summer as a telephone dispatcher. While working a night shift he would often hold conversations with the police officers who were not out on the roads and they would tell him about their interviews. They shared stories of how they were asked what they would do in situations like the one you described where it is their job to take someone to jail. The question goes along the lines of, if it is a 3 A.M and you pullover a car for mildly speeding through a yellow light and you find out it is your friend what do you do? When my friend told me the answer they were looking for I was surprised, as I am sure you would be too, to find out that the interviewer is actually looking for the interviewee to say that they would let their friend go

      As immoral as it may be, the police interviewer is looking for you to respond in a way that most of us would consider to be human nature. While I do believe an elected official like the governor needs to uphold the laws and interests of his constituents, what harm is my friend doing by letting me go home at 3 A.M. Granted if I am drag racing down a residential neighborhood it is a different story but if I am speeding for example 7mph over the limit, why shouldn’t he be allowed to let me go. My point is that while you do have a responsibility to uphold the standards of a job you apply for and agree to complete maybe we do need to allow room for debate and listen when someone has a difference of opinion.

  2. Maxwell Geisendorfer Says:

    Upon reading this, I am actually reminded of the movie “Dinner for Schmucks”. (I do realize this may be an off-putting opening sentence, but please bear with me.) In said film, a young up-and-coming business executive is offered a huge, career-changing promotion, but with a cost: he must bring someone of “lesser” intellect to a dinner with his new upper-echelon co-workers and make fun of that person for the entertainment of the dinner guests. The protagonist (whose name presently escapes me) is fundamentally opposed to the notion of deriving pleasure from the ridicule of someone thought to be “lesser” than himself. But the alternative to bringing an idiot to dinner would be career stagnation and potential termination: what if his boss took his refusal to participate as a personal affront?

    The point here is fairly blunt: obligation is obligation, regardless of how your personal beliefs play into it. So as far as employment is concerned, people can take it or leave it, but selective performance of duties is more than satisfactory grounds for a big fat pink slip.

    I think there is some sort of phrase about “leaving work at work”, so as to preserve the sanctity of one’s home as a bastion of peace and family. But this phrase ought to have reciprocal value, so people might “leave home at home” or “leave their non-work-related beliefs wherever it is those might be appropriate to be left.” Because as the most free-speech lax country in the world, we might otherwise be stuck with a workforce full of dissenters who do as they please instead of doing what needs and ought to be done.

  3. ianbaker2041 Says:

    I really have to agree with the first commenter on this one. While it is perfectly permissible for each of us to hold our own opinions regarding morality on these key political questions, when working for the government or on the government’s dime, we must do what is legal according to the framework of our nation.

    I see why many people oppose gay rights. One of my closest friends, in fact, took a great amount of time to explain why Catholics (this just happens to be his religion; I’m not trying to single out any group here) see gay marriage as a bad thing to my friend and me, both of whom are not Catholics and were having trouble understanding the reasoning behind such a belief. As he (and his religion) sees it, marriage and sex should be only between a married, heterosexual couple with the sole purpose of raising a family and perpetuating mankind’s existence. For him, it’s all about biology-get married to have kids, have kids to make sure humanity doesn’t end. I don’t agree, but I see where he’s coming from.

    At the end of his discussion (after telling us why gay marriage is morally wrong), he went on to tell us that Obama has an obligation to the Constitution to legalize it anyways. “Dude, didn’t you just get done telling us that gay marriage is morally wrong?” Because our nation lives on principles of equality for everyone, liberty, and freedom; to deny such a right, from a legal perspective in the United States, would be just as wrong as upholding a religious principle that only a percentage of Americans believe in, he said. The United States is not a religious nation; thus, banning gay marriage not only goes against our legal framework but shows a religious bias. For him, the religious aspect didn’t matter; for secular matters, it was all about the Constitution, and I think that it’s in this light that we must see the debate.

    It is OK to have whatever views one wants to have regarding morality of gay marriage or any other issue, but from a legal perspective, doing what’s RIGHT requires following our nation’s founding principles. If our secular leaders are not willing to support such an idea, then they shouldn’t be in their positions, and that’s completely fine. They just have to be willing to see the difference and keep religion separate (or as separate as possible) from secular, state affairs.

  4. jillburnette9 Says:

    I completely agree with the comment above (jacobdockser). I believe government officials, or anyone for that matter, should know the what is expected of them when they accept a job offer and should be willing to fulfill any roles/requirements that come along with the career. All individuals have a clear idea of what their obligations are before applying for and accepting a job (or else I’d hope the job wouldn’t be offered to them in the first place) and they should be ready to put their personal feelings aside once they’ve been hired.

    One example that immediately came to mind when reading this piece was when one takes the job as a defense attorney in a murder trial. Even if the suspect admits to the attorney that he/she is guilty, it is still the lawyer’s job to defend this client, even though (I would hope) their morals would guide them in the opposite direction.Yet, because they took on, not only the case, but the job as a whole they must do what is expected of them and what they are being paid for.

    Now once the lawyer is off the case, it would be acceptable for them to follow through with their morals and not support or defend a criminal, but otherwise they knew the possible consequences they could potentially face, and must be willing to deal with them in a professional manor.

  5. erfreed3 Says:

    I am inclined to agree with much of what Jacob said in his post. If one is to take up a job, particularly one connected to the government, they should know what the job entails. In this case, I see Belforti’s argument as something that she may have wanted to consider prior her choice of becoming a town clerk that issues marriage licenses. In the simplest of terms, I see this no different than working a job at a restaurant. For example, say that a customer comes in wearing a t-shirt of an artist that you cannot stand, (for example, Justin Beiber). Although though you morally may feel, “no way do I want to serve a fan of beiber”, you have an obligation to do so as part of your job.

    Now, here’s a thought (that may stir some controversy from people with views similar to that of Belforti) but how about this: How is it there any difference between Belforti saying that same sex marriage violates her right to free expression of religion, than a homosexual saying that a ban on gay marriage violates homosexuals freedom of expression of love? Sure, one may have constitutional basis but does it make it anymore correct. The point here is that, sure, Belforti may not agree with the new law, but what about the many gays and lesbians that don’t agree with putting a ban on same sex marriage? Basically, Belforti must abide by the law and because the law in New York makes same sex marriage okay, she is required to give marriage licenses to those couples. I don’t see this as any different as it would be from the other side of the spectrum. For example, if a state bans same sex marriage, it is banned and thus homosexuals cannot marry in that state. The law is the law. Furthermore, if it really bothers Belforti that much, she can always quit her job (they aren’t easy to come by nowadays). Bottom line, if you are going to take on a government job, you should be prepared to deal with consequences and put your moral feelings aside.

  6. Baihan Li Says:

    Last year I read a novel. It’s about how a young commander, who wins his rank with master diploma, grows up in the military. There is one chapter, in which the team was ordered to assassinate a notorious drug king. The order is to wipe out the whole drug den. However, this commander hesitated when he faced the last target, a 17-year old boy. Before he was able to make a decision, the captain pressed down the trigger of the commander’s gun, and fulfilling the task by killing the boy.

    It took so long for the commander to recover. He could not forget the young boy. As a highly educated independent thinker, the young commander began to doubt if what they do is right. He was so confused that he began to consider leaving the army. However, eventually he stayed. When his captain asked for the reason, he made a response: I am here to serve the people. I hesitated because what I did had violated my belief, as I did not know if I hurt any innocent person. However, I gradually figured out that it is impossible to get the answer. We do have strict ruled on assassination. That boy could be a notorious killer even though he is just. If I want to cast doubt on this decision, I will have doubt the whole system. If I doubt the system, then what I should do is find a small country with less than 2000 citizens and live there. But that’s not the life I want. I love this country and I hope to protect people there. Thus, I will trust this system as long as it is overall beneficial to the people.

    His answer is much longer and more complex than what I put down there. But I just keep things related to our case there. This chapter, in fact, derives from a famous Buddhism paradox: will you choose to kill a person to save another 100? It has been discussed for centuries because a major principle of Buddhism is ahimsa. However, during a specific time period, even the Buddhists say yes to this problem. In fact, both Tibetan Buddhism and the Mahayana Buddhism, the one most influential in mainland China, went through a time when monks took up knife to defend their people and their land. They prayed for everybody they killed. They were willing to take the consequence of breaking rules as they believe what they did could benefit the whole nation.

    Thus, things become even easier when we are back to our case. You will always have to give up something to get what you want. When one takes a part as a governor, he or she has made the commitment to serve the people. It is fine for one to have his/her own belief as private, but never should one deny other’s interest because of his/her belief. Therefore, for me, what the governor is doing is unreasonable. If you devote yourself to the good of the public, there is no reason you should oppose to what the people want. In this case, her own belief would just apply to herself but the people who pursue happiness for themselves. Sure she can stick to her religious doctrine. However, if she could not separate her own beliefs, ideas and values from the public affair, then she should probably quit the job. Just as we discussed before in class, it is hard to tell whether the mass decision is right or not. However, when we are devoted to the public good, there is no reason for us to stand against to a mass decision. People would never make a decision to hurt themselves, and this is what the government look for.

  7. srstrickberger Says:

    I was very intrigued by this post. I often think about the clash of morality and government involvement. In this moral conflict, I, initially, had a very difficult time accepting Rose Marie Belforti’s argument for refusing homosexuals marriage license. However, after further review I understand and fully support the New York Times’ decision to refer to this as a “clash of rights”. It’s clear that on both sides of the debate, peoples’ rights are being violated. Obviously, a solution to this dilemma cannot be to refuse one group’s rights in order to protect the others’. So, the question presents itself, how can we uphold both groups’ rights?

    I think the only way to do so would be to take a look at the judicial system. When a judge has a personal connection or interest in a particular case he or she can choose to abstain. If a judge knows that his personal connection to the case would inhibit his ability to successfully and effectively complete his job he can abstain from any given case. The idea is that the judge’s personal life would influence his ability to do his job. As a result, he bows out and allows another judge to take the case in order to ensure a fair and just trial- which is the job of a judge. I think this concept would work well for the people who issue marriage licenses. If Belforti is uncomfortable issuing a marriage license for a homosexual couple as a result of her religious beliefs, she has every right to withdraw from doing so. However, the homosexual couple has every right to receive a marriage license and would then merely have one issued from a worker whose religious freedoms would not be violated in doing so.

    This option would allow both groups’ rights to be upheld and is therefore the best compromise I could think of. There very well may be other options, however, we must ensure that both groups walk away with all of their rights intact

  8. madelinedunn Says:

    “I’m not supposed to have to leave my beliefs at the door at my government job.”
    This statement is from the clerk who was against the same-sex marriage law and was taken out of the linked New York Times article in the professors post. A statement such as this is absolutely unacceptable for someone holding a government position. Luckily she stepped down from her position specifically because she couldn’t rightfully in her heart abide by the law. As our professor mentioned above, I also do not want anyone to completely abandon their moral beliefs. However when they are on the clock it is their job to uphold the rights we chose and deserve.

    The question at hand deals with whether someone with certain religious or moral beliefs take on a position that would possibly force them to abandon those beliefs. My answer to this is no. I realize that jobs these days are rather scarce and some people with take what they can get. However, a government position that involves protecting and providing for its citizens needs to be taken care of by someone who will act in the people’s best interest.

    This situation here with gay rights reminds me of what has been going on with our Medical Marijuana Act. There have been multiple incidents of people getting arrested who were in full compliance with the law. These are people who are choosing a healthier and safer alternative method to traditional western medicine, aka pharmaceutical pills; They are not criminals!

    There is one case in particular that really wrenched my heart. An older woman and her husband were growing medical marijuana, because they legally could, using it solely in home cooked dishes made for each other because it was the most effective method for them. Their house was raided by armed government officials while they were not home. These officers of the law not only seized their plants but also tore a part their house, ripped through mattresses, broke cabinets etc. When the couple asked to see their warrant and reason for the investigation, the officer denied to show them any type of documentation. Thousands of dollars in irreplaceable materials were damaged and left up to the couple to take care of. This family had to pay their way through the court system until they were finally let off being that they were in fact breaking no laws.

    The most tragic part of this ordeal is the death of the husband, who was in his 70’s. He died of a heart attack from the extreme anxiety this situation caused him. Now his widowed wife, whose belongings were destroyed is left alone all because some officers did not agree with the laws they were supposed to be upholding. This does not seem to be in the best interests of the people.

  9. kristinamacek Says:

    Part of being a good employee is being able to keep your mouth shut and do what your boss wants you to do, whether you agree with it or no. If you choose not to do so you may face the consequence of losing your job. Every single employer has rules and expectations that they hold their employees to. Whether, it be abiding by a dress code or having to interact with customers in a certain way. If you do not like being told how to dress or behave, you need to find a new job or just not work at all.
    Working for the government is no different. You need to fulfill the expectations of your employment, whether you like it or not. This may mean arresting someone you personally feel is innocent based on your own moral code or by upholding a law you do not particularly agree with like abortion or gay marriage. When you work for the government, you work for the constituents of that government. Thus, if they feel a law is just you have to respect it or you have to find a new place of employment. It’s not fun doing something you don’t like, but it’s part of being an adult and living in a democracy.

    Religious beliefs should not interfere with laws and Rose Marie Belforti needs to understand this. I disagree with her stance just as much as I disagree with pharmacist who refuse to dispense the Plan B pill to women. You have no authority to trample on someone else’s rights simply because you do not agree with them, especially when doing so means that you are not properly doing the job you are paid to do. I think Ms. Belforti needs to remember that her salary is funded through taxes and that gay New Yorkers pay taxes, as well.

  10. kristinamacek Says:

    Part of being a good employee is being able to keep your mouth shut and do what your boss wants you to do, whether you agree with it or no. If you choose not to do so you may face the consequence of losing your job. Every single employer has rules and expectations that they hold their employees to. Whether, it be abiding by a dress code or having to interact with customers in a certain way. If you do not like being told how to dress or behave, you need to find a new job or just not work at all.

    Working for the government is no different. You need to fulfill the expectations of your employment, whether you like it or not. This may mean arresting someone you personally feel is innocent based on your own moral code or by upholding a law you do not particularly agree with like abortion or gay marriage. When you work for the government, you work for the constituents of that government. Thus, if they feel a law is just you have to respect it or you have to find a new place of employment. It’s not fun doing something you don’t like, but it’s part of being an adult and living in a democracy.

    Religious beliefs should not interfere with laws and Rose Marie Belforti needs to understand this. I disagree with her stance just as much as I disagree with pharmacist who refuse to dispense the Plan B pill to women. You have no authority to trample on someone else’s rights simply because you do not agree with them, especially when doing so means that you are not properly doing the job you are paid to do. I think Ms. Belforti needs to remember that her salary is funded through taxes and that gay New Yorkers pay taxes, as well.

  11. danieltarockoff Says:

    Moral conflicts have, and always will be a problem. I wish there were some way that in the future, people could live their lives without focusing on how others should be living their lives. It’s a counterproductive way of living and it’s holding the human race back from becoming a stronger and more united species.

    There are some drastic changes we need to make as a society if we ever want to solve this problem. For one, we need to re-evaluate our laws. Sure, they work to a degree, but there are a LOT of holes in the system. If only we lived in a world where winning in court wasn’t about finding loopholes in the wording of laws…hey, I can fantasize right? Something I’ve never understood is why we STILL base our entire societal foundation on the United States Constitution. Obviously it’s an important and historic document that got a lot of things right, but I have to be honest and say that the 1st amendment is a little too open-ended (maybe, just MAYBE, they didn’t get everything exactly right in 1787). If we can’t even depend on a solid 1st amendment then how are we supposed to build a sturdy structure on top of that? Let me explain. 1st Amendment summarized (and yes, I’m leaving out some key parts, but I want to focus on these): Freedom exercise of Religion, Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Press. Basically, as citizens, we are free to believe, say, and preach ANYTHING we want. Similarly, the Declaration of Independence sums it up as well: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” So why am I bringing up all of these basic laws that we learned in elementary school? Because they aren’t logical. They don’t work. If I have the right to do, say, or express myself in ANY way but I can’t do, say, or express myself in any way that’s going to diminish somebody else’s rights, then what rights do I really have? I have the right to fit in. The right to be a part of the “majority,” the society that my ancestors formed. I don’t have the “complete” freedoms that John Stuart Mill preached. Before I get way too off track though, let me refocus so you all can understand where I’m going with this.

    This woman, Rose Marie Belforti, refuses to follow a law of the United States because of her own moral code. Well, sorry lady, but it doesn’t work that way. You can’t refuse customers (in any business) because their morals differ from yours. It’s illegal. Yet, at the same time, why is her “free exercise of religion” being violated? As big of an idiot as I think she is, I’m trying to figure out why we have a law that basically allows anyone to say they’re unhappy and ignore other laws. While I think she’s wrong, I think it’s important to realize that we have many, many laws that contradict one another. And a society can’t run smoothly off of a broken system. It’s time for a big change, but unfortunately things like this take time to solve.

    Moral conflicts, like Belforti vs. the State of New York, are unavoidable. But they are only unavoidable because of the system we have put into place as human beings. We need to change that system. While I believe Belforti has the right to look down upon homosexuals, even demonstrate her hatred of their lifestyle publicly, I don’t think she has the right to ACTUALLY stop them from marrying (or to infringe upon ANY of their rights, for that matter). Her happiness, her RIGHT to free exercise of religion, is NOT violated just because she has to watch OTHER people living their lives differently from her. Until people realize that they can’t control other people from living a certain way, moral conflicts will continue to be of great abundance throughout not just the United States, but the entire world. I guess we might as well be grateful that we have the freedoms that we do. Until we as a society stand up and decide that’s not good enough. One day, maybe.

  12. amgille Says:

    Since I was a child, I have been taught that a law cannot be broken, and should not be broken. Laws are the dictates of our lives, and even when it comes to religious morality, the law of a country stands firm in the making of the law, until it is revoked. Yet, I find it strange that a government official would in fact work against the law, the very thing that government officials are supposed to uphold, in order to keep others from a right granted to them by the state. As noted by the Times, it is a clash of rights between those that wish to practice freedom of religion and those that expect to receive equal treatment under the legal system, however, I tend to disagree as the issue in question takes place on the level of government. I definitely do not approve of the stance of Belforti in refusing to issue the marriage license for many reasons. Though the United States does provide freedom of religion, there is also a separation between church and state set forth in our nation. If Belforti wishes to exercise her freedom of religion, she is welcome to do so in her private life, but, as her role in society is as a government official, she must uphold the laws publicly that are set forth by her country, state, or local branches, regardless of their moral implications upon her life. Though she may disagree with same-sex marriage, issuing a marriage license by LAW does not morally corrupt her. She does not have to agree with the issue at hand to do so, and could (though it would be socially unacceptable and might potentially cost her the position) announce her views to the homosexual couple if she truly believed in what she was standing for.

    A person should realize before taking a governmental office that they might, in fact, have to perform duties that they do not agree with. It is in the duty of a government official to carry out the laws to improve society, whether they believe the law will or not. Rights cannot be taken away by individuals based on their beliefs. For example, if I went to vote, and a man registering voters refused me entrance based on my sex for his own strongly held moral beliefs, he would be infringing upon my rights granted to me by the government. There is little to no difference between the two questions at hand, whether one agrees with same-sex marriage or not. As it is a right given by the government and one simply cannot refuse to acknowledge the law, regardless of religious inclinations.

  13. matthewlocascio Says:

    Moral conflicts, and more importantly conflict of rights, are at the forefront of political and social discussion today. We see issues, such as in this article, regarding the refusal to perform same-sex marriage rights, as well as other issues like abortion rights and religious sacrifices. The common ground in all of these situations is the conflicting morals of the different groups. What one side thinks may not necessarily be the same as the other side; what one thinks is “right” may not be what another group thinks is “right.” The belabored disputes regarding these morality issues are never ending because both sides believe they are right. But like Hobbes states, no single person is good at telling someone else what is good for that person. You do not know what their experiences are or what they value, so how can you tell them what is right or wrong? Moralities clash because people cannot resist the temptation to tell others what to do. In most cases, such as the same-sex marriage, the moral conflict leads to a violation of civil rights.

    When it comes to these disagreements, the article mentions the most important point: role differentiation. In order to avoid the possibility of violating basic rights, one needs to learn to separate personal beliefs and commitments from the obligations of a public role. In my opinion, once you assume a position, you accept all responsibility of the job, regardless of the nature or moral component. People are not forced into jobs (for the most part), so it is a life choice. If you make that choice to accept a job, you accept the responsibilities that come with the job. In the public sector, specifically, you cannot choose which laws to abide by and which ones to ignore. People need to learn that performing a job is strictly business, and in no way represents the personal beliefs. Perform your duty and call it a day.

    This gets to the point that morality is on a PERSONAL level. What you think is wrong is right to someone else, so why should you be allowed to prevent them from something they think is right? I have adopted this mentality and it prevents arguments and saves energy discussing the topic. Personally, I think marriage is traditionally a bond between a male and a female, end of discussion. Being of the Catholic faith, this belief coincides with the beliefs of the Church. At the same time, in no way shape or form, should anyone be allowed to prevent someone else from being happy. If same-sex marriage is what they want, then why deny the pursuit of happiness. Learn to separate your beliefs from your obligations as a citizen, employer, or whatever position you hold, because it will hold true the freedoms of this country and protect morality.

  14. Achin Jain Says:

    In the case of the officers involved in issuing marriage licenses, they have two options: first to stick to their morals and not do the complete job hoping that the employer will not fire them or second allow their morals to loosen a bit so that it reduces the chances of the employers firing them. The important questions that arises from here is: In any dire circumstances, can morals stand their grounds? can people actually choose to stick with their morals and be like “I don’t care if i don’t have a job”?

    The answer is no. In this highly competitive world our vision has become unidirectional where people strive for power, prestige, promotions, bonuses and high standard of living. Money, hard work, ideas and perseverance can help us achieve goals and make us successful. Morals also have a value attached to it; an intrinsic value that we care about, a value that makes us unique but i am not sure if that value can actually help us resist the pressures in this ever increasing world of competency.

    In conclusion I would say that it depends on us whether we put the value attached to morals above or below the value of a stable financial life.

  15. zekeharris Says:

    I fully agree with jacobdocker but moral conflicts include but are not limited to people who hold government jobs. Anyone who has a job to do whether it be in athletics, a bag boy, or taxi driver unless it is in the description of your job how you feel about a certain situation does not have to be taken into account by your superior or the laws/rules that govern you. While this may be blunt I believe it to be entirely true. I’m sure it is hard for some people to bow down and put their opinion in the back ground.
    Is it possible that our views are not as cemented as we believe once we hear the other side? I will be brief but this question makes me wonder if by not letting others pick and choose what rules to follow or not is a way of hopefully getting the people in that community to come to a closer consensus. Now I may be wrong (or right for that matter), but I think having these questions asked will help us look and discuss both sides of the issue. Being able to recognize that the opinion we hold should be open to be tested as John Stuart Mill argues in his essay On Liberty can help mankind come to a hopefully more “true” answer.

  16. sarahspath23 Says:

    My initial reaction to this issue of moral conflict was that a person who assumes a job/role that is part of the government or constrained by the government knows exactly what their duties entail and must abide by any rules or regulations that are imposed by the government. If that is the job you want, you must be willing to do whatever the job entails in order to keep your job, even if you may not agree with it.

    The U.S. was partially founded on the freedom of religion, for people to have the choice of what to believe without any repercussions as long as no one is being harmed of course. The belief is so essential to our country, that I could see why this issue has come about. However, I think there are problems with the argument that a clerk should not have to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples because he/she believes homosexuality is a sin. By taking such a job, the clerk, for example, needs to be able to separate religion from the law. This issue kind of reminds me of separation of church and state, which is something that John Locke talks about and something that the U.S. has worked very hard to accomplish. Typically, people think of separation of church and state in the sense that the government cannot create policies that constrain people’s religious beliefs or the way the “church” operates. In the case of moral conflict, I see the issue as the other way around, that the church should not operate in the government. Sure, people can believe whatever they want, but if a clerk has a job giving out marriage licenses (which is part of the government), he/she should not let those beliefs lead him/her to not follow the law. If someone is getting into a government related job, they should know this already though. It is that worker’s choice to work elsewhere if they think that following the guidelines of their job contradicts their beliefs.

    Freedom of religion means to me that as a country, we recognize the need for diversity of opinion and have the ability to respect that other people have different opinions, regardless of if we agree or not. Isn’t that the whole reason we have freedom of religion? Although, I do realize that many people may not respect that others have different opinions. However, if the argument for the clerk to not follow the law of same-sex marriage is freedom of religion, couldn’t the same-sex couples argue a similar case?

    One of the reasons our government works in general is that people can trust that laws will be upheld. Now I know people could have a lot to say about this, but overall, I think that if people did not trust the government to enforce the laws, the government would fall apart. If the government started allowing governmental workers, such as the clerk in this case, to not follow the law due to moral beliefs, the public would lose trust in the government. It is not the government’s job to deal with this internal moral conflict; it is the government’s job to ensure that the laws are upheld. So as long as people have the freedom to believe whatever and worship however they please, freedom of religion is not the issue. As I said before, people working in any form of the government must realize that they are a part of an institution that must maintain its neutrality in the case of religious and other personal beliefs. If a worker cannot separate their beliefs from the requirements of their job, then the public will begin to feel as though the laws do not mean anything. If one person can decide not to follow the law allowing same-sex marriage, then so can others and this would lead to protests and distrust in the government as an unbiased institution that enforces the laws. The government needs to maintain consistency or there could be serious public controversy and chaos.

    In a sense, governmental workers are representing their company, the government. This is similar to any job you may have and other instances, such as being a part of a sports team. For example, I’m sure many of us have been a part of team and the coach has said that we need to act courteously and respectful towards the other team and the fans because we are representing our school. It is the same thing in my mind: the governmental workers are representing the government to the public and if they, themselves don’t follow the laws, what’s to stop the public from not following the laws.

  17. kelseymlee Says:

    When public officials enter office, I do feel that it is necessary for public officials to abandon their moral compass. The fact of the matter is that there are many instances when a person’s moral compass will conflict with the rules of the state. If public officials consistently allowed their moral compass to take precedent over the rules of the state, many citizens would constantly experience their rights being taken away from them, and there would be much trouble enforcing the laws and rules of the state.

    I agree with Governor Cuomo as well when he said that Belforti’s position was a “non-starter.” Although Belforti argues that being forced to allow same sex marriage conflicts with her right to practice freedom of religion, her position really is not practical, since she is using her right to practice to take away rights from others. In John Locke’s, Letter of Toleration, he specifically states, “every man may enjoy the same rights granted to others.” By refusing to issue licenses for same-sex marriages, Belforti is deliberately taking away the right of marriage specifically for same-sex couples.

    By accepting the post of a public office, Belforti needs to realize that while at work, she needs to put her religious agenda aside. Locke states church is a “voluntary society of men.” Same-sex couples wishing to marry are not volunteering to be a part of her church, so she should stop blurring the lines between church and state. While at church and in her personal life, it is her own right to exercise her opinions against gay marriage, but under no circumstances should she exercise that opinion while at work, as it conflicts with rules of the state, and hurts her fellow citizens. If she has such an issue with the separation of church and state, maybe she should not seek a position in a public office.

    Belforti’s situation is just one instance when it is important for a public official to put their moral compass aside to ensure that all citizens are granted equal rights and the law of the state is enforced. For instance, the devout Catholic who is against the death penalty but wishes to be a police officer in a state that enforces the death penalty needs to put her moral compass aside as well. Even though personally, I am against the death penalty, I realize that if I were to assume a public position, I would need to abide by the rules of the state. The same is true for the pacifist who wishes to be a civil servant for a country that possesses a military. By choosing to serve his country, he is choosing to serve the country under the country’s rules, not his. If every person in a public position were allowed to engage his or her moral compass, it would make for a terribly inefficient, unfair state.

  18. madisonkraus Says:

    I think this topic highlights an important part of American culture, which is our democratic belief in the value of choice. As mentioned by other students, an excellent feature of our political system is the option to choose to abstain from a particular proceeding or to remove yourself from an issue because of a conflict of interests. I think Rose Marie Belforti’s claim that she would be violating her right to express religion if she issues marriage licenses to same sex couples is absurd. She does have the right to practice and express her own religion, but while she is living in a state that recognizes and issues same sex marriages, she must recognize that right also. She has the freedom to choose what kind of job she practices, where she lives, and what she’s willing to do when it comes to working in a governmental position. If she is so against homosexual marriage, she has the option to move, get a new job, or simply refuse to do all aspects of her current job (needless to say I don’t think this particular option would go well for her). By claiming that her rights to religion are being violated, she is trying to remove herself from the responsibility of choice.
    If you choose to work for the government, you are obligated to hold up the ideals and laws of whatever state you reside in. People are not discouraged to abandon their ideals or morals, but if you agree to work for a particular institution, you have to be willing to be tolerant of laws and rights that you don’t believe in, because that’s what you signed up for. It all comes back to choice. As a government worker if you don’t agree with certain laws or rights that were democratically put in place by the people of your state or country, you have two choices: You can hold onto your personal morals internally, and respect and enforce the laws that were set in place, or you can admit that you do not feel comfortable going against your personal opinions and you can get a job outside the public sector.

  19. jacola Says:

    I strongly identify with this post because my morals predominately reflect my behaviors and actions. In most of the situations I have encountered, though, my duties and obligations have aligned with my morals, so I have never been in a circumstance where my requirements have opposed my morals. This is probably because I have never had a serious job in the public sector that has required me to abide by controversial guidelines that were against my beliefs. Regardless, this post has made me think about what I would do if put in such a situation.

    In thinking hypothetically about this, my mind immediately jumped to an example of morals conflicting with job requirements that I had seen in the television drama series “The OC.” Sandy Cohen, a lawyer, was assigned to a case that was supporting the suing of his wife’s real estate company. Talk about controversial, the success of winning such a big case would skyrocket Sandy’s career in the firm but it would also destroy his wife’s career that she has spent so many years building up. What did Sandy do, you may ask? He took the case, and he killed it. He explained to his wife that for his career he had to do it, and she, being a very supportive wife, understood.

    In the case of Sandy Cohen, he separated his personal life and morals from his obligations at work and in the end still lived happily ever after. I’d like to think that I would behave in a similar manner. Having a job and being invested in your professional future means making sacrifices, and it is your duty to deal with making these sacrifices in an honest and moral way. While your personal beliefs and morals may not always align with your responsibilities at work, the one thing that can be held constant is your behavior in dealing with the situation – acting with thought and respect, whether you personally support your actions or not.

  20. Derek Van De Walle Says:

    I fully agree that if you hold a public office, you are by default agreeing to abide the rules and regulations of that position, regardless of your own beliefs of what is right and wrong; the same applies to any other sort of job as well, unless of course the order is contrary to any standing law. And if you refuse to do it, feel free to quit, because there’s always someone looking to replace you.This idea applies especially to the government.

    For example, the President has a duty to uphold and enforce any law Congress passes, or any ruling the Supreme Court hands down; Worcester v. Georgia (1832) comes to mind, when after Chief Justice John Marshall had made his decision, Andrew Jackson repsonded with “John Marshall has made his decision; now let him enforce it!” Fortunately for Marshall, the state of Georgia complied with the ruling, but Jackson, stubborn as he was, had a duty to support Marshall’s decision. President Eisenhower on the other hand, did the right thing when he had to intervene in Arkansas to allow nine black students to attend a white school after The Supreme Court’s ruling in Brown v. Board of Education.

    Some may argue that violating their own morals would reduce their sense of intergrity and character, but stated above, if you don’t like it, leave. But for me this begs the question: what makes your idea of what is right and wrong more important than anyone else? Yes, all of us are entitled to our own opinions, but in some cases this doesn’t matter. Just as a child you’re forced to obey your parents, or as a soldier you’re forced to obey your commanding officer, in the real world you have to do as your boss tells you. This can be taken out of the job discussion and a step further by saying that all laws must be obeyed, even if you do not agree with them. For example, although Socrates did not necessarily agree with the laws of Athens, he nonetheless abided by them when faced with the option of running away into exile, or facing out sentence after his trial in 399 BCE.

  21. ljgoslin Says:

    When I look at troubling, and not always clear topics like these I try to put myself in the situation of the people trying to make that difficult decision. So here I am, in the shoes of the boss, in charge of the woman who is refusing to give out marriage license to gay couples because it is against her religious beliefs. I have to decide whether to enforce her to distribute them, or allow her to carry on because otherwise I would be infringing on her religious freedom.
    But really, doesn’t religious freedom only really pertain to speech and and beliefs. If you are working for the government, you have to tolerate like the government. If gay marriage is legal in that state, then you take in the beliefs of that law because represent the government in your job. But maybe that obligation should be enforced through a contract really. I mean it is a very big commitment to “give up” your religious beliefs for your job, a contract would have to be necessary so people know beforehand what they are getting into.
    So in the end, I would have to fire the lady, because the government after all is a separation of church and state, like Locke advocated. The church’s “law” of not tolerating towards homosexuals does not trump governmental law.

  22. hjclec Says:

    Personally, I believe that one should not take a job if it interferes with their morals. One typically knows what they’re getting themselves into when taking a job, and therefore they should find a job suitable for them. I believe that taking a job that requires one to go against their morals would be mentally exhausting and unadvisable.

    In the case with Gov. Cuomo’s, I think what Gov. Cuomo did was wrong. He is a devout Catholic that doesn’t believe in abortion, yet he promoted it as the governor of New York. In this instance it was like he was living a lie. Even though he was saying women have a right to abortion, he didn’t believe what he was saying. It’s not like when he was acting as governor, he could all of a sudden forget his beliefs. Therefore he must’ve had a difficult time being governor in this instance.

    One may argue that Gov. Cuomo’s actions go along with John Locke’s idea on the separation of the church and state. Gov. Cuomo could have chosen to try and separate these two aspects of his life. But like mentioned earlier, while at his work for the state he most likely couldn’t totally change his state of mind. His beliefs are most likely carried with him always. Although he tried to suppress them at work, it must’ve been challenging.

    I also think it would be mentally exhausting for a president, who doesn’t believe in killing people, to send troops out to war. The president knows that the troops are at great risk for death when at war. I know if I were president, then I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night after sending troops off to fight. It sounds awful, and it can’t be easy to do. If a president’s thoughts against killing are really strong, then I feel as if they should leave their position for their own mental health. Because even if the deaths are to protect a country, they’re still deaths.

    This is why I could never be a prosecuting or defending attorney. If I had to argue for a guilty crime-doer, then I couldn’t live with myself. Conversely, if I had to argue against an innocent person, then I couldn’t live with myself. I can’t imagine the possibility of being truly happy with myself in the above court situations.

    For someone to be completely happy at their job, I do feel they need to find a job that matches their moral standards. I think a moral conflict can have the potential to really tear someone apart on the inside. They may not show it, but I think lasting damage will be done.

  23. hjclec Says:

    Personally, I believe that one should not take a job if it interferes with their morals. One typically knows what they’re getting themselves into when taking a job, and therefore they should find a job suitable for them. I believe that taking a job that requires one to go against their morals would be mentally exhausting and unadvisable.

    In the case with Gov. Cuomo’s dad, I think what Gov. Cuomo’s dad did was wrong. He is a devout Catholic that doesn’t believe in abortion, yet he promoted it as the governor of New York. In this instance it was like he was living a lie. Even though he was saying women have a right to abortion, he didn’t believe what he was saying. It’s not like when he was acting as governor, he could all of a sudden forget his beliefs. Therefore he must’ve had a difficult time being governor in this instance.

    One may argue that Gov. Cuomo’s dad’s actions go along with John Locke’s idea on the separation of the church and state. Gov. Cuomo’s dad could have chosen to try and separate these two aspects of his life. But like mentioned earlier, while at his work for the state he most likely couldn’t totally change his state of mind. His beliefs are most likely carried with him always. Although he tried to suppress them at work, it must’ve been challenging.

    I also think it would be mentally exhausting for a president, who doesn’t believe in killing people, to send troops out to war. The president knows that the troops are at great risk for death when at war. I know if I were president, then I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night after sending troops off to fight. It sounds awful, and it can’t be easy to do. If a president’s thoughts against killing are really strong, then I feel as if they should leave their position for their own mental health. Because even if the deaths are to protect a country, they’re still deaths.

    This is why I could never be a prosecuting or defending attorney. If I had to argue for a guilty crime-doer, then I couldn’t live with myself. Conversely, if I had to argue against an innocent person, then I couldn’t live with myself. I can’t imagine the possibility of being truly happy with myself in the above court situations.

    For someone to be completely happy at their job, I do feel they need to find a job that matches their moral standards. I think a moral conflict can have the potential to really tear someone apart on the inside. They may not show it, but I think lasting damage will be done.

  24. emmaschneider11 Says:

    I have to agree with the majority of commenters that while holding a government position the employee must be willing to sacrifice their morals if it is interfering with their job performance. Two reasons i see for this are that 1) it is just like any other job where you must perform your duties regardless of your personal beliefs, and more importantly 2) that because this employee is working for the government if they refuse to do their job it may infringe on the rights of others.
    Any job may entail some unpleasant tasks or may call for actions that contradict the employee’s morals. However, the employee is still responsible for performing the task because they were hired and are being paid to do so. An employee may adhere to any morals they wish when they are off the clock, but at work they need to do their job. As far as I am concerned if the government is providing your paycheck then you can perform what is asked of you, regardless of if your moral compass is pointing you in a different direction.
    More importantly, if a government employee refuses to perform their duties the rights of other citizens may be harmed. If Belforti or any other government employee does not issue a marriage license to a gay couple they are infringing on the couples rights and that is no different that screaming “fire” in a crowded auditorium. You have a right to believe, think, do, and say what you wish as long as it is not hurtful to society or other people.

  25. outloudpoli12 Says:

    I think many government workers and well, the people of our nation in general, tend to forget that our country amended the constitution to guarantee the separation of church and state (A concept that was derived from the writings of John Locke), for a reason. It is true that everyone is entitled to their own moral beliefs. But it is also true that not all human beings are going to agree on what is morally wrong or right. Because of this, we cannot continue to try and rebel against a part of the constitution that was put in place to decrease conflict and complication within the government system.

    Like stated before, you must know the obligations and expectations of your job role before you commit to the job position itself. Refusing to give a homosexual couple a marriage license just because your religion says otherwise, is just as wrong as the Louisiana Justice of Peace Keith Bardwell, who refused to grant an interracial couple a marriage license in 2009. Bardwell, stated to the Associated Press: “I’m not a racist. I just don’t believe in mixing the races that way,”. We are in the 21st century, this is sad! It is ignorant for people to continue to mix their beliefs with their job title. It complicates issues and can ultimatley disrespect large portions of our population.

    Interracial couple denied marriage license article: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/10/15/interracial-couple-denied_n_322784.html

  26. jpstern Says:

    When you introduced moral conflict, the first concept that comes to mind is the trolly problem. The trolly problem states that a trolly is running out of control down a track. In its path are five people who have been tied to the track by a mad philosopher. Fortunately, you could flip a switch, which will lead the trolley down a different track to safety. Unfortunately, there is a single person tied to that track. Should you flip the switch or do nothing? This is a situation that everyone would evaluate differently. A utilitarian would say that by saving 5 and killing one he is acting for the common good. But what if the 5 people in the trolly were murders and the one on the alternate path was a child? Would the utilitarian still act as he did? I would hope not. Personally my stance on this dilemma is to evaluate the specific situation and act on that. For example, if the situation was changed to having to push one person off a cliff in order to save 5 others, then I don’t think I would be able to save the 5 regardless of who they were. Even if that person was a criminal, it would be hard to directly harm someone for the common good. This dilemma is debatable by people with various viewpoints and the moral conflicts involved will be interpreted differently by everyone.

  27. srbarron Says:

    Malcolm X touches on the topic of putting religion aside, similarly to that mentioned in the New York Times Article. Malcolm X explains that people from all religions come together with the common idea of helping the black man strive in America. He emphasizes that politics and religion are separate and I believe this is the case in the moral conflict issue as well. If the government issues a law or ruling to allow same sex marriages or anything law in general, citizens are required to follow these rules.

    It’s not so much an issue when discussing marriage, as it is when safety is at risk. With increased threat of terrorism this day in age, we must forfeit our individual religious backgrounds and moral ideals in order for our country to be safe. If specific religions seem to be targeted in background checks or security screening in airports, they need to realize that it’s for their own benefit. Although it may seem discriminatory against some, generalizations have been made by security to limit terrorists with images similar to previous terrorists. Everyone should be willing to be screened or taken aside at airports or security points no matter what their background if its a random search or a search with reason by the government or TSA.

    Our country was established with the value of freedom of religion, assembly, and expression. These ideas are privileges more than rights. We can practice our religion and have our own beliefs as long as we are following the other rules and laws designated by our government.

  28. aclieb Says:

    Morality is one of the greatest examples of something that can never be black and white. For example when someone asks another person if they thought stealing was wrong, odds are the initial response is “of course.” Not to sound trite, but how about the classic moral dilemma of “would you steal a loaf of bread to feed your family?” Now what seemed like an initial obvious decision can become a heated debate where no one is right or wrong. A set of morals belongs to an individual. One cannot argue that there is a generally accepted foundation of morals, at least in my opinion.

    In regards to the town clerk from New York that won’t approve gay couple of getting married because of her religious beliefs, I disagree. I do, however, agree with her right (not view) to not approve of gay marriage. Yet, her job is not to determine what is right and wrong in society. The state of New York voted to allow same?sex marriage and because of that, every person that has a part in the marriage process should uphold the law and approve any lawful marriage regardless of religious and/or moral beliefs.

    Someone may argue that according to my opinion, if one’s job was to murder someone, and that was against the person?s morals, they should do it anyways because his or her morals should be set aside to perform the job. I believe if something is legal (and in this case, gay marriage is legal) and one is asked to perform something or assist in performing something that may be against one?s morals, the individual should still do it regardless.

    But back to the whole moral dilemma of “should someone steal to feed his or her family?”? Morality is such a difficult topic and could be debated for a lifetime. Even within one’s own opinion (like mine) morals conflict and can cause for extreme distress.

    The funny thing about morals is, in another person’s opinion; everything I said could be completely immoral. Someone else may believe it is immoral to make someone else go against his or her morals and take part in a same-sex marriage, and that’s fine. Once again, morality is not black and white. It is a set of beliefs that everyone lives by and guides and shapes one’s life.

  29. Skye Says:

    I think that the clerks in New York who refuse to sign the marriage certificates are being completely ridiculous. I do not care what your religion or beliefs are, you’re welcome to believe whatever you want, but your beliefs should not interfere with your work. If there’s a law passed in this country or in a certain state, you have to abide by it.

    I think a lot of people like this woman who refused to sign the marriage certificates are forgetting about separation of church and state. Additionally, you should not be biased in your job, and if you are, get a new job. Or accept that things are not how you like them and move on. This should not be a moral conflict – it’s more so people being selfish and forcing their beliefs on you.

    Moral conflict is an interesting topic, and I think that in some instances, there will never be a resolution to it, because of pluralism. People all have different ideas and everybody thinks their opinion is right. But sometimes it comes down to what is legally right and what is morally right for the majority, such as the issue in New York with gay marriage. The clerk should not be allowed to refuse to sign these marriage contracts because it’s legal now, and we’re finally on our way to equality.

    I’m not saying that they should be completely void of morals at work. For example, if their boss was smuggling money or doing something else illegally, then by all means, report him. But if it comes down to issues of equality or denying someone else their rights, you should check your own beliefs at the door when you come to work.

  30. samdickstein Says:

    This post really is quite interesting and one that surely has no one right or wrong response to. I do believe however, as many of my peers above do, that Belforti has no right to continue refusing to wed homosexual couples. What makes the United States of America so great are the many choices one is offered. If Belforti is so opposed to gay marriage, she has the choice to pursue another career field that either does not deal with controversial issues that she feels strongly about or one that shares her stance on the issue. Belforti, also, has the option to move to a state in which the law is more suited to her beliefs. However, as a woman who makes her living because of a marriage license she obtained from the State, it is her prerogative to carry out her job based on what is right and wrong in the State’s law.

    For a more extreme example, imagine if Belforti was an ambulance driver assigned to pick up an injured man who happens to be a married homosexual. Would it be acceptable if she refused to help this person because that she personally doesn’t believe in the legal choices this person was making? Absolutely not. The same applies here.

  31. briank726 Says:

    I think that when one enters any profession, that person makes a contract to uphold the duties and entailments of that profession, leaving aside morals and other personal biases. There are rules and commitments that one bindingly agrees to follow and make, and one cannot choose when to make exceptions. If everyone acted according to their morals, there would be no restrictions in professions. The terms and requirements of a profession would merely become loose guidelines.

    In regards to violating personal rights, I think that people entering a profession are giving up certain rights for the greater goal of fulfilling their role to the best of their ability. However, it definitely must be harder to make choices against one’s morals when one is actually in that type of situation to choose. It is human nature to be strongly inclined to act towards ones beliefs, but regardless one has an obligation to act as is expected for that profession. One does not get to choose when to obey the rules and when to just act purely towards one’s judgment. Part of one entering a profession is to follow by its rules, and consequently giving up certain “rights.”

    A typical case would be for public prosecutors. They must come across many instances in which they have to act against their morals, unless they don’t have any. However, they still perform their duties, leaving aside their morals the best they can. Either everyone should try to comply by what is required from their professions, or they should find something in which their morals do not come in conflict with their work.

  32. dcmiller93 Says:

    Though I am a Christian and agree with Miss Belforti personal views, I don’t think she’s being reasonable in expecting the entire county legal system to bend to her beliefs. Whether she likes it or not, the state of New York has redefined the institution of marriage to include same-sex couples, and therefore she has a responsibility, as clerk, to do her duty as a public servant much in the same way gays in the military were forced to suppress the expression of their lifestyle choices under Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. The common thread in these two cases is what makes them unique – government employees, civil servants, have a special responsibility to carry out their roles as the governing authorities dictate.

    There are other cases we have seen, however, that demonstrate what I believe to be the evil of the opposite extreme. One such example occurred a few years ago, just up the road at Eastern Michigan University, where a graduate counseling student was *expelled* from the school just before completion for her beliefs that homosexuality is a sexual perversion. This was not a case of someone being offensive or proselytizing or shoving beliefs down someone’s throat, but instead someone being up-front and honest about religious obligations. The student in question was simply asking to be taken off the case involving a homosexual lifestyle because she could not in good conscience encourage that type of behavior and any condemnation on her part would be inappropriate and condemned. (To read more, google “Julea Ward”)

    There’s obviously a fine line that must be carefully tread in the case of moral conflicts. While we cannot expect the will of the state to be bent for the beliefs of one opinions, we likewise cannot allow that same person to be punished, discriminated against, or otherwise disadvantaged by his or her beliefs.

  33. eaaldrid6409 Says:

    My reaction to this post is very similar to most of the other commentators. I too feel that one’s moral values cannot interfere with the institutions of their workplace. Upon taking a job, you are agreeing to abide by the rules and regulations regardless to the moral conflict it may present. Furthermore, you are even more required to abide by the institutions in a government job, as they institutions are usually the law. I wouldn’t go as far to say that you must completely abandon your moral values in the workplace, but you must not allow them to prohibit you from doing your job.
    The fact of the matter is the law is subject to change. And, when you take a government job you are aware of this, and it meaning that the institutions that are set by your workplace may also change. If your moral values do not provide enough elasticity to allow you to perform your job if these potential changes would occur, you should not take that job. However, I feel it is important to realize that rarely will you find a job that will never challenge your moral principles and almost always will you find yourself compromising.
    I think Appiah’s cultural relativist approach can be applied here. In this situation, you are not being asked to forsake you moral values but to acknowledge others’, and not pass moral judgment on them for it—and ultimately, not let them interfere with your job.

  34. shmily4k Says:

    The issue addressed in the article is in fact a moral conflict between religious freedom and obligation to obey law. Even though all U.S. citizens are granted with the right in believing any religions, it does not mean there’s no need to comply with the law. Since the state of New York has already passed the law to allow same-sex marriage, it is illegitimate for Rose Marie Belforti to refuse to sign the marriage licenses. It might be true that she has to right to hold both her job and her beliefs, but what if everyone says the job that he or she is doing violates his or her religious beliefs and refuses to do it? The social order would be disrupted, causing grave consequences. It is the law that serves to maintain social order, rather than religion. Because Rose is an U.S. citizen, she has to comply with the laws of the United States and issue the marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

    Besides, it is Rose’s responsibility to do what she is told to do by the employer, even though it might be against her religious beliefs. No matter who we are working for, we must have encountered some situations in which the rules of the employers are against our will or moral beliefs. For example, soldiers have to kill enemies in war, just because killing people might be against their religion doesn’t mean they can just stand there and do nothing. It is important for us to perform our duties at work to maintain social order. If people found the work that they are required to do is unreasonable, they should quit the job rather than refusing to perform their duties.

  35. dlwang Says:

    When analyzing morality, I think it is very important to keep our analysis nuanced and tolerant in order to logically come to a conclusion. ‘Aclieb’ was correct in saying that morality can never be viewed in terms of black and white (see above).

    Because of this necessity for tolerance, I applaud Belforti’s decision to stand up in defense of her morals. Personally, I do not share her views on gay marriage, but I can understand her actions because I know that she believes gay marriage to be a moral crime. Furthermore, I would hope that all citizens in this country would stand up for what they believe to be right (regardless of public opinion). Locke’s theory of tolerance argues that all voices should be allowed to speak, regardless of their message. This diversity would allow society to consider all ideas and perspectives in order to reach a calculated and informed conclusion. However, any action taken in defense of morality must be done so in the correct manner.

    I agree that as town clerk Belforti has a public duty her to perform her job as completely and competently as possible. Yet, she also has a duty to society to voice her own opinions, just not in the context of town clerk. I encourage Belforti to continue to act in her ethical interests, but when she is not on duty.

    Because of my efforts to produce a nuanced comment, I feel that I have also created an overly complicated perspective. But, I think that simplicity must be sacrificed in order to reach the best possible solution, lest we make a regrettable judgment.

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