Situational Ethics in the 21st Century


By Tim Erson

A photographer is asked by a hunting club to take pictures of hunters as they pose next to the animals they’ve shot. The photographer is a vegetarian and thinks that hunting is cruel. He turns down the work. Do the hunters have a right to sue the photographer for turning down the work?

A baker/cake decorator is asked to decorate a giant cake for a bachelor party. A scantily clad dancer will pop out the cake and do things that the baker thinks are degrading to women. He turns down the work. Do the hosts of the bachelor party have a right to sue the baker?

A caterer is asked to serve food at ceremony for a group of ethnic extremists. The group believes things that she finds offensive. She turns down the job because she does not want to be exposed to their rhetoric. Does the group which has planned a legal assembly have a right to sue her?

A husband and wife own a flower shop. They are asked to provide flowers at a ribbon cutting ceremony at a woman’s medical clinic. The clinic advertises ‘safe abortion on demand.’ The owners have an adopted a child who otherwise would have been aborted. The couple turns down the job. Does the owner of the medical clinic have a right to sue the owners of the flower shop?

A photographer, baker, caterer and florist are asked to provide services at a ceremony for two women who want to get married. Their state allows this type of ceremony, but such an event is contrary to the ‘core’ teachings, values and practices of their faith. As they consider their response each concludes that there is no scientific or medical evidence to confirm that humans are born homosexual. No blood test will prove it, and no chromosomal markers point to it. They believe that homosexuality is part of a complex set of social, emotional and psychological influences that create values and behaviors similar in concept and scope to values and behaviors held by other people with whom they might also disagree.

The photographer, baker, caterer and florist decline the work. Other well regarded photographers, bakers, caterers, and florists are willing to accept the work and will do it well. Do the women who want to marry each other have a right to sue the original photographer, baker, caterer, and florist who were by conscience not comfortable doing the work that was requested?

In each situation the proprietor makes a living through artistic presentation and expression. Is it right to threaten these proprietors and punish them via penalty of the law if they say ‘no’ to requests of an artistic nature that violate their conscience? Is it right to sue them if it is possible for the request to be done by another reputable and available artist/proprietor?