The Justice of Justice

Okay, I’m Canadian; I do not understand the objection to universal health care south of the border. And I certainly don’t know how a society that purports to believe in equal opportunity for all could be so resistant to accepting the inalienable right of every person to access affordable medical treatment, the right to a personal choice as to whether or not to become -or stay- pregnant; and, so long as it does no harm to anyone else, the right to make a decision about what to do with their own bodies. Isn’t that part of the Life, Liberty and pursuit of Happiness in the U.S. Declaration of Independence?

Each person has the right to choose a path for herself. That does not mean that others have to make the same choice –or even agree with it. But they should respect the right to do so. Live and let live; not judge and punish. Life –society- is far too complex; there are too many interactions, too many competing values (each one held and defended by someone) – too much going on for there to be just one direction, just one answer that is forever correct no matter the circumstances.

We all have ideas that we embrace and cherish. Often, one of the hardest things to do is read contrary opinions; we –most of at any rate- are subject to a confirmation bias. That is we tend to read or watch only those things that confirm our opinions. We do not frequently seek to explore those that contradict. We do not usually parse them to discover if there is a way they might be compatible with our own. If the contrary opinion expressed is about a strongly held belief we certainly do not examine it as closely as we might an article commenting on a foreign war atrocity. And religion seems to inhabit an entirely different Magisterium where compromise is considered a form of moral compromise and is anathema. Unacceptable. Wrong.

For what it’s worth, I think the answer to opposing values does not lie in denying them to the point of anger but rather in examining them to discover why they are held, and what benefits might obtain by considering them. Incorporating them, Compromising with them. In fact, it seems to me that even being willing to assess them is a step in the right direction.

What started me thinking about this was a BBC report of a recent 5-4 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court which “found that some corporations can hold religious objections that exempt them from a legal requirement that companies with 50 or more employees offer a health insurance plan that pays for contraception at no charge to the worker or pay a fine.”

 http://www.bbc.com/news/28093756

One has to assume that the Supreme Court is impartial and that its judgements are delivered only after a dispassionate consideration of all the relevant details of the case in point. The fact that all three female justices disagreed with five of their male colleagues does give one pause for thought, however. Is it a coincidence unrelated to the judgement on what can certainly be seen as a comment on the value of a woman’s rights, a woman’s choice -or something else?

But one has to be careful in evaluating the judgment. It’s not really an issue of increasing the difficulty for a woman to obtain contraception, nor even that it should be paid for by a company. Fortunately there are some foresightful provisions that the White House thought to include that may mitigate the ruling –the BBC once again: As the court noted, the Obama administration has already devised a mechanism under which workers of non-profit organisations that object to the contraception mandate could keep coverage without the organisation having to pay for it.

So then, what’s the big deal about the Supreme Court ruling? Well, The decision marks the first time the Supreme Court has found a profit-seeking business can hold religious views under federal law, analysts say. In other words, it suggests that religious beliefs trump individual rights -women’s rights in this case. And no doubt it is the thin edge of a wedge for further disruptive –not to mention religious- challenges.

In a dissent she read aloud from the bench, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg called the decision “potentially sweeping” because it minimizes the government’s interest in uniform compliance with laws affecting the workplace. “And it discounts the disadvantages religion-based opt-outs impose on others, in particular, employees who do not share their employer’s religious beliefs.”

And don’t think this is an attitude peculiar to America; Canada is not exempt:

http://www.calgaryherald.com/health/Calgary+doctor+refuses+prescribe+birth+control+over+moral+beliefs/9978442/story.html

We are all subject to our own biases; it’s just when they interfere with the rights of others that I worry.

The internet has exposed us all to a plethora of competing viewpoints. Of course, if we don’t agree we can just read the first sentence, make a judgment, and then move on to another. Or if we’re so inclined, we could even take the time to comment on it. But those ideas with which we disagree require some examination to refute online or the rebuttal seems fatuous. Ill considered. Unrealistic. And it will have little effect. Some of us don’t care, of course: anonymity is a seductive drug. That’s what cyber-bullying is all about: not changing opinions, merely inflaming them. Freedom to speak -or write- is not really freedom unless it makes sense. Connects in some meaningful way. Justifies… I suspect that most of us would not make the same vapid and vituperative comments if our names were appended and we knew that others were judging us. Or if we could be held accountable in the courts, for that matter.

This time Shakespeare (Coriolanus speaking to a group of mutinous citizens): What’s the matter you dissentious rogues, that, rubbing the poor itch of your opinion, make yourselves scabs? I’m not sure that I’ve entirely escaped a confirmation bias here, of course –I’ll have to examine my position- but I think he’s on to something…

 

 

 

 

 

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Prostitution Laws

Okay, I think you’re going to have to help me with this one. Suppose you have a product the courts have decided you are legally entitled to sell, but a new law is enacted making it both illegal to advertise or purchase it… Am I missing something here?

In December 2013, the Supreme Court of Canada, in a unanimous 9-0 ruling, struck down Canada’s prostitution laws as violating the Constitution guaranteeing Life, Liberty, and Security of Person. The law it disallowed had prohibited brothels, street solicitations, and living off any money derived from prostitution. The government was given a year to come up with a new law.

http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/12/20/supreme-court-prostitution-canada_n_4478127.html   

So, six months later in early June, they did just that, closely following the so-called Nordic model: selling sex is legal; paying for it is not There are a few subtle Canadian twitches to this model (of course), but it pretty well boils down to the the same result. Which brings me to the issue with which I need some help.

The problem that the government is trying to solve -apart from what they perceive to be the moral one- is the crime that often accompanies prostitution: drugs, violence, and the nuisance to the community where it occurs. And when pressed, they seem to subscribe to the views of Gunilla Ekberg, a lawyer in Sweden who played a role in that country’s adoption of the Nordic Model in 1999. She described prostitution as a form of male sexual violence and has said that the law focuses “on the root cause, the recognition that without men’s demand for and use of women and girls for sexual exploitation, the global prostitution industry would not be able to flourish and expand.

The problem with that argument, of course, is that it doesn’t get rid of prostitution; it merely drives it further underground unsupervised, and into dark and unsafe alleys. It is an approach that, to be polite, is naive, and dangerous for prostitutes -who, remember, are legally recognized as such. And as citizens living within the law, they are entitled to its protection. That, I think, was the intent of the Supreme Court’s decision.

There are various models in other countries that have also attempted to deal with the issues surrounding prostitution. None is perfect, but some appear to offer more protection than the one proposed as a reaction to the Supreme Court. The New Zealand approach seems popular with sex workers in Canada:(http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2014/06/05/sex-workers-like-new-zeal_n_5450692.html)

And as the linked article states: Prostitution, including brothel ownership and pimping, has been legal in New Zealand since 2003. The sex industry operates under employment and public health laws. Prostitution that is not consensual or involves someone under 18 years is illegal. It’s also against the law to compel or induce someone into sex work, or to provide their earnings. Larger operations must be certified. Prostitutes are still vulnerable if they work on the streets, of course, but the brothels at least allow better working conditions and protection.

It seems to me that offering safe working conditions for a service between two consenting adults goes a long way towards the intent of our constitutional protection. To ascribe denigrating moral attributes to a consensual act ignores the overriding necessity of security of person. To fly in the face not only of the intent of the Constitution but also the ruling of the Supreme Court of Canada which acted to defend it, merely to punish those who, in your opinion deserve it, strikes me as arrogant in the extreme. Intolerant. It smacks of a fundamentalist omniscience, a disinclination even to attempt to view society through the lens of those with whom you disagree.   http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/daniel-tencer/prostitution-law-canada_b_5451466.html 

I hasten to add that I know we all have strong beliefs surrounding this issue -myself included- and I understand the disparate feelings the ruling seems to have unleashed. I also recognize that there is likely no solution that can satisfy everybody. Debate about it is not only appropriate, it is necessary. But to debate, one needs to hear both sides of the argument. The merits and problems with each and every viewpoint need to be explored. There should be no monopoly on interpretation. No unilateral power politics. It is not the prerogative of any elected government to legislate morals at the expense of constitutionally guaranteed rights.

Personally, I object to any government assuming it knows what we should and must believe. And I object to a government that is so convinced that prostitutes are on the wrong track, it thinks it should commit $20 million for a program to encourage them to change their ways. Not all the electorate subscribes to this evangelistic approach:

I’m reminded of a quotation from Oscar Wilde: Morality is simply the attitude we adopt towards people we personally dislike. Is that what’s going on here? The government says it’s not… so it can’t be. Right?