The First Amendment

2 Mar

The profession we are in demands that we given equal consideration to views we personally disagree with and help all patrons without regard or bias toward the nature of what they are asking us to do for them (within the bounds of the law).  However, sometimes this results in a professional/personal conflict and those are difficult to deal with.

This is one of those conflicts. I feel comfortable saying that nearly all people in America have something they disagree with the Westboro Baptist Church about, and many are opposed to almost everything they say or do.  When the story about protesting at military funerals and the subsequent court case made it to the national news, I know what I was hoping would happen, what I thought was morally right and just.  Now that the Supreme Court has ruled that Westboro Baptist Church was within its rights to protest and the First Amendment applies to them in this case, my feelings are largely irrelevant.  Their reasoning seems to be that the church is not singling out any one person but rather are demonstrating and speaking about their views on “issues of public concern.”  This makes logical sense.

I don’t want it to make logical sense.  I think they employ tactics no reasonable person need resort to and that they demonstrate a lack of respect that is not beneficial to any community.  But legally I am bound by the ruling that states they are allowed to protest.  Free speech is tricky in that way – it doesn’t have to be respectful, correct, or intelligible, much less intelligent.

This is, in my opinion, the largest dilemma our profession faces: what do we do when our duty demands we give respect to those who have none, help those who seem to do only harm, and protect the rights of people who want to take others’ rights away, as our conscience demands inaction?  There is no easy answer, if there is an answer at all.  Unlike medical professions, we do not have a clause allowing us to refrain from helping patrons; we may be able to avoid it if our coworkers and management are understanding but it does us ill service if we develop a reputation as unhelpful or judgmental.

The only coping mechanism I have developed is to try and maintain as strictly as possible a divide between my personal and professional minds.  If I can make a reasoned, respectful, legally-grounded and intelligent argument for an action that agrees with my personal beliefs, I will make it.  But in so many cases, like this one, I don’t have a legal leg to stand on and I can only hope I never confront this severe a dissonance from my patrons.

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