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Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Ethics versus Morality

Am I compartmentalizing my life?

Aside from Mark Twain’s advice that “it is better to remain silent and appear a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt,” I believe one of the most poignant pieces of wisdom handed down to us was penned by Voltaire:

“I disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

To me, this is an absolutely essential aspect of the American Experience. Such is the foundation of liberal thought, yet what have liberals done with it? What have any of us done with it?

In Professional Responsibility we discussed the ethical obligations of attorneys to undertake representation of a particular client who has views, morals, actions with which the attorney vehemently disagrees.

An example was given of a fellow Texan who, while acting as lead counsel for the NAACP, was asked to represent the Ku Klux Klan on a First Amendment issue similar to one which had earlier faced the NAACP. Though he, of course, found his new client’s views to be repugnant, he advocated zealously and won the case. In the course of this work, however, he was dismissed from the NAACP and ostracized from the black community for a time.

I don’t use the example to point fingers because, of course, we all do it.

When I left the ministry and later announced to my preaching acquaintances that I was to become an attorney . . . the response was quite similar among most: “How,” they wanted to know, “how can you reasonably be both?”

I have seen people lauded for leaving legal practice in favor of the ministry. I have never – and will never – seen anyone celebrated who leaves the ministry to practice law.

How can a Christian practice divorce law? How can he, in good conscience, counsel a client on bankruptcy? How could he defend murderers and rapists and child molesters and thieves?

So, in order to do this, am I compartmentalizing my life? Because I believe in Voltaire’s resolve and I believe it applies to the just dispensation of law, am I compartmentalizing my life?

My God is a just God. He is, at times, harsh . . . but leniency and mercy are well within His vocabulary. Above all, though, my faith stresses the important fact that my God is a just God.

Proper justice requires an intercessor, a capable advocate, to plead the case of the represented. This is why we are guaranteed a right to counsel when we risk losing our freedom. The same principle, however, applies to other times:

Is it just for the hard-working father with but a 10th grade education level to face his creditors alone when he finds himself in a spot of trouble? More than adequately represented, they will face him down with threats of force and without representation, his voice could well be utterly lost in the proceedings.

On the same token, if suddenly every lawyer developed the “conscience” the world would impose on us, and none was willing to represent the Evil Conglomerate in a products liability case . . . then all the money in the world could not buy it the voice and influence an adequately represented Plaintiff would have in that courtroom.

The Old Testament is filled with stories of wrong-doing, trial, judgment and punishment. And God, throughout, has appointed an advocate for the accused. One important role for many of the Old Testament prophets was to serve as an advocate-- both to plead for leniency in judgment, mercy in punishment and the correction of their “clients” ways.

Christ. One need look no further for an example. He is an intercessor, an advocate and capable counsel. And He defends only those with whom he disagrees, whose actions to Him are repugnant.

The point is not that the guilty need go free—but they must have a fair hearing before the imposition of punishment. That is Biblical.

So am I compartmentalizing my life? I think not. For I will defend you and your right to say what you say . . . whether I agree or not. And I should only expect the same in return.

For some day, perhaps sooner or perhaps later, my beliefs may be extremely unpopular. And I will need someone willing to stand up for my rights then.


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