Tag Archives: Eric Turner

Corruption Comes in Many Flavors

One of the elements of the recent McCutcheon decision that has had many lawyers shaking their heads is the majority’s airy dismissal of concerns about the many ways dollars corrupt the system.

The majority limited the definition of corruption to the receipt of a quid pro quo.

Now, obviously, the exchange of money for a legislator’s vote is a corrupt act. It is also illegal. The majority seems to believe that only such blatant and illegal acts–outright bribes–are unethical.

If that cramped understanding of the ethical obligations of citizens and public servants carries the day, it won’t take long until we inhabit a society that has lost whatever is left of its moral center.

Let’s look at a couple of examples that are currently playing locally.

State Representative Eric Turner is currently being investigated for working feverishly behind the scenes to derail a law that would have hurt his son’s nursing home business. (According to the Indianapolis Star last Sunday, Turner also had significant personal investments that would have been negatively affected by the legislation.) If the allegations are proven, Turner is probably guilty of breaking a law, although that isn’t entirely clear–but even if his behavior didn’t actually violate a statute, is there any doubt that such actions were unethical?

Then there’s the smoke alarm ordinance that I blogged about awhile back. Counselor Scales (who seems to be the only City-County Counselor at all concerned about the fact that it would hand one vendor a probable monopoly) asked for and received an opinion from legal counsel. She was told that an offer–a quid pro quo, actually–that didn’t enrich anyone personally isn’t a violation of the City’s ethics ordinance.

If you’ll recall, the ordinance would require property owners to purchase smoke alarms with non-removable, non-replaceable “sealed” batteries with a ten-year life.  The company that manufactures those alarms, and would benefit from the requirement, promised IFD “free smoke detectors, payment for TV and radio public-service announcements, press events and donations to IFD-favored charities” in exchange for IFD’s support for the ordinance.

No firefighter was bribed, but the department would certainly benefit from the “generosity” of the vendor–and needless to say, the vendor would benefit financially from passage of that ordinance. IFD didn’t solicit “bids” and didn’t give other smoke alarm companies an opportunity to match the “gifts.” That said, no law was broken. The Ethics ordinance wasn’t violated.

The McCutcheon majority would dismiss these–and countless similar examples–as mere persuasion. Free speech. The prerogative of those who are engaged in commerce.

The fact that such behaviors take place behind closed doors is a pretty good indication that the people involved know that such activities–legal or not–aren’t kosher. Legal doesn’t equal ethical, no matter how disconnected from reality the Court’s majority remains.

Discriminating with Your Tax Dollars

I guess one person’s discrimination is another’s religious liberty.

The most contentious provisions of George W. Bush’s “Faith-Based Initiative” were those that proposed to allow organizations doing business with government to discriminate on the basis of religion. The Initiative has largely faded away, but the debate –as we saw yesterday in the Indiana General Assembly–keeps popping up.

Here’s a scenario that may help illuminate the issue: Church X feeds the hungry in a soup kitchen in its basement. If local government pays for both the soup and an employee hired to ladle the soup, can Church X refuse to hire a soup ladler who does not live in accordance with Church X’s beliefs? i.e., an unwed mother, a GLBT person, a Jew?

If Church X were using its own money to run the soup kitchen, it could hire who it wants. It could even require the hungry to pray over their soup. The Free Exercise Clause protects churches from anti-discrimination laws inconsistent with their teachings (it would be ludicrous to insist that Baptists consider hiring an atheist Sunday School teacher). Free Exercise protects Eric Miller’s pastors no matter how extreme their anti-gay rhetoric.

But (you knew there was a “but,” didn’t you?) that’s when they are using their own money. 

When a religious organization has a contract with government–when it accepts tax dollars to provide a secular service–citizens have the right to expect that the service will be provided in a non-discriminatory way. We have a right to insist that people whose salaries we are paying with our tax dollars be protected against discrimination–including discrimination based upon religious dogma.

Most states agree, and most have laws providing that when governments contract with private or nonprofit organizations–including religious organizations–the contractor must agree to abide by the state’s civil rights laws.

Yesterday, Eric Turner tried to change that longstanding practice. Perhaps he was “getting even” for losing the second sentence of HJR 3. Perhaps–as one reporter suggested–he was trying to rescue  Indiana Wesleyan University‘s workforce training contract.  (Turner filed the measure shortly after the state rejected a longstanding workforce training contract with Wesleyan. The attorney general’s office determined language allowing the Christian university to hire in part based on religion violated state law.)

Whatever his motive, Turner proposed amending Indiana’s civil rights law to allow religious institutions doing business with the state to hire and fire employees for religious reasons.

The measure narrowly passed the House Ways and Means Committee, but Speaker Brian Bosma killed the measure shortly after it sparked a heated debate on Twitter. (His experience with HJR 3 may have dampened his enthusiasm for culture war politics.)

Look, if despising GLBT people, or Jews or Muslims or whoever, is really, really important to your religious organization, go for it! Hire people based upon religious criteria, provide services only to people who agree with you, preach your dogma to whoever will listen. No problem.

Just don’t demand tax dollars to subsidize those activities.

No one is interfering with your freedom to discriminate. We’re simply declining to finance it.


Alien Worldview

Wow. Just wow.

When Todd Akin went off on his ignorant rant about “lady parts,” it prompted a number of folks to turn over the rock under which he and his fellow “conservatives” live–and it turns out his crazy isn’t limited to women’s reproduction.

Salon raised the reasonable question, “why is this guy on the House science subcommittee?” and quoted the genius on climate change: “In Missouri when we go from winter to spring, that’s a good climate change. I don’t want to stop that climate change you know. Who in the world wants to put politicians in charge of the weather anyways?”

Unsurprisingly, Akin also rejects the “theory” of evolution.

The article also noted Akin’s firm grasp of history, made clear in his belief that the Pilgrims came to the New World to escape socialism. (He must get his history lessons from David Barton.)

This would all be funny if Akin were the only elected official with this sort of delusional worldview. But what’s really scary is how many “fellow travelers” he has. Several of them are in Indiana. A friend of mine shared a You Tube in which Linda Lawson berated Eric Turner for expressing his opposition to the “rape or incest” exception by explaining that women would pretend to be raped in order to obtain an abortion.

I don’t get it.

How do these willfully ignorant culture warriors get elected? What is it about women and science and basic logic that repels them?

And most important, what will it take to engineer a return to sanity?