It’s only black and white

Sep 23, 2009 at 5:00 am

I can’t pinpoint exactly when it happened. All I know is that it used to be a whole lot easier to tell right from wrong.

Today, with increasing frequency, we tend to employ situational ethics. We say the end justifies the means. We excuse bad behavior if it happened for what we deem is the “right” reason. But that’s not how right and wrong works.

It’s OK because everyone does it.

Pleasure Ridge Park High School Football Coach Jason Stinson was overworking his players the day 15-year-old Max Gilpin died. Punishing the squad by running the kids until someone quit, rationing water, screaming at the team — this isn’t OK because such behavior is the coaching norm at practices across the country. This isn’t OK because students need discipline, and this kind of athletic mentality builds strong, winning teams. The fact that Gilpin was taking a prescription drug and an over-the-counter performance enhancer on top of being sick the day he died doesn’t legitimize Stinson’s conduct. Nor does the fact that the jury found Stinson’s actions were not criminal. A lot of wrongdoing isn’t criminal. Just think how few Wall Street bankers and corporate executives are going, or have gone, to prison.

It’s OK because we agree with him.

“You lie!” U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., loudly articulated what about half of America worries: whether illegal aliens will be covered under President Obama’s new health care reform. Truth is, the final version of the health care reform bill doesn’t yet exist. Maybe they will be; maybe they won’t. Maybe they technically won’t but loopholes will allow it. Maybe Obama will stick to his word that no illegal immigrants will be covered under a public option.

Regardless, Wilson’s shout-out was most certainly not OK. No one, especially a member of Congress, should ever yell at the president of the United States. It doesn’t matter that many in America agree with Wilson’s assessment of the president’s truthfulness. It doesn’t matter that Wilson’s conduct is de rigueur in British Parliament. The highest office in our land must be honored even when there is disagreement with the officeholder. Period.

It’s OK because most of us are Christian, too.

Last month the head football coach of Breckinridge County High School took about two-dozen of his football players to his church. During the revival nine of the student athletes were baptized. The pastor went along with this — no counseling, no preparatory classes, no discussion, not even a “let’s call your parents to get their blessing or because they would want to be here for this momentous occasion when you commit your life to Christ.”

It was outrageous, yet few people were upset about this. Why? It was a Christian church. Baptist.

Problem is, what’s all right at one church needs to apply to all, and I doubt the same defenders would be OK with a coach whose team came home from a Catholic church with the news they received holy sacraments and were now converts, or kids who came home from synagogue announcing they gave up Christ.

A public school coach taking kids to his church is not OK because kids need religion in their lives. It’s not OK because more parents didn’t complain. It’s not OK even though attendance wasn’t mandatory or because another coach paid for the gasoline used by the public school bus that provided transportation to the church.

This excursion was wrong because the whole point of public school is that it creates a secular environment. No public school official should ever, with or without parental knowledge, be inviting or taking students to any church or religious service unless the trip is part of an approved instructional curriculum. Anything beyond that, even if deemed harmless, constitutes public school, an extension of the U.S. government, officially promoting a specific faith or religion.

It’s OK because this is a gray area.

Today we’re writing new rules almost as fast as we break the old ones. Often the justification for giving ourselves and those of whom we conditionally approve free passes is the conclusion that the controversy, whatever it may be, “is a gray area.”

Only it really isn’t very often. The appropriateness of the president of the United States addressing school children doesn’t depend on whether you voted for him. The constitutional right to free speech applies all the time, not just when you agree with what’s being said. Most situations are, in fact, black or white, right or wrong. And they’re not OK, no matter how many excuses we can find to conclude otherwise.