Beware of the Ethical Slippery Slope
You probably read that Sarah Sanders was asked to leave a restaurant in rural Virginia last Saturday. The thought process that was in play when owner Stephanie Wilkinson decided to ask Sanders to leave is disturbing. She thought about the decisions Trump made and attached them to Sanders as his press secretary. Wilkinson believed that Sanders worked in the service of an “inhumane and unethical administration.” Be that as it may, the ethical question is should we hold her personally responsible for the sins of the “father,” – Trump in this case?
Wilkinson also thought that Sanders publicly defended the president’s cruelest policies, and that could not stand. Let’s assume this is so. Isn’t she just doing her job? [Of course, an ethical decision (for Sanders) would be if she truly felt that way, then should she resign?] In the end, Wilkinson said to her staff: “Tell me what you want me to do. I can ask her to leave.” The staff said yes. Wilkinson’s leadership skills were lacking in this decision. She is the owner and should make that decision. Staff input is fine, but shouldn’t crowd out the owner’s responsibility in such a matter to make the final call.
It should be pointed out that Sanders was guilty of an ethical violation when she tweeted about being kicked out of the restaurant because it was made from her official White House account, a clear violation of federal law. If we are to hold Hillary Clinton to this standard, then we need to do the same with Sanders or any administration official or staff member.
Should an owner of a private restaurant be able to pick and choose who she allows to eat at her establishment? If you say yes, then you should agree with the U.S. Supreme Court decision on June 4 that absolved a Colorado baker of discrimination for refusing to create a custom wedding cake for a same-sex couple, ruling that the state exhibited “religious hostility” against owner Jack Phillips’ religious objections to gay marriage in 2012.
The problem I have in both these cases is if we allow owners – even owners of private businesses – to pick and choose who they decide to serve in a restaurant, bakery shop or elsewhere, we fall into the trap of ethical relativism. We allow these owners to make decisions about right and wrong, that affect others, based on their personal beliefs rather than applying long-standing ethical norms such as kindness and respect. Once core values are abandoned, we have no guiding light in society. Just imagine that you own a restaurant and Rosanne Barr comes in. Would you serve her?
Disagreeing with someone’s position on a political or other matter is fine – it is the American way – but, we should not be disagreeable in the course of expressing our opinions and taking actions. We need to learn to tolerate opposing views. This is the essence of free speech.
We need to learn to accept each other as human beings and not dehumanize each other, even if we find a person’s views offensive. To do otherwise begins the slide down the proverbial ethical slippery slope and who knows where it will end.
Blog posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on June 25, 2018. Dr. Mintz is a Professor Emeritus from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Visit his website and sign up for his Newsletter.