THE JOB DESCRIPTION

A few years ago there was a brief spike of interest in "conscience clauses" for pharmacists whose deep, meaningful belief in the scientific opinions of Jerry Falwell led them to conclude that birth control pills are a form of abortion. They argued that they should not be legally required to help a customer perform an abortion, and thus they could refuse to fill prescriptions for oral contraception. Several states adopted relatively meaningless Conscience Clause laws for healthcare providers, meaningless in that A) the accommodations an employer must make for an employee's religious beliefs are limited to a reasonable effort and B) the employee must comply with company policy about objections based on conscience – for example, Wal-Mart and Target require pharmacists to refer the customer to a co-worker who will fill the prescription. The issue rapidly disappeared.

The underlying and more serious problem, however, is that the idea of refusing to perform the most basic – and from the perspective of the public, only – duty of one's job based on moral qualms is an unworkable model. Pharmacy is a profession with a creed and a set of principles, the most basic being that patients are autonomous (i.e., the pharmacist will respect the informed wishes of the patient) and the doctor-patient relationship is inviolable. See, people don't go to the pharmacy to get moral advice or a lecture or a second opinion on medical decisions. We go to get our goddamn prescriptions filled, a job, in an age of pre-filled and factory sealed bottles of pills, that could reasonably be done by a vending machine. If you're not prepared to fill prescriptions, maybe pharmacy ain't for you. I'm not prepared to kill animals all day, so I don't apply for many slaughterhouse jobs. And there's a good chance that if I took one and refused to kill animals they would fire me. For cause. This idea that we will structure the world to accommodate the personal objections of individuals that take jobs with legal responsibilities and professional codes of conduct is as dangerous as it is stupid.

Let's play the slippery slope game for a second. What if my religion is Christian Identity and I don't want to teach any Jews or minorities? If we apply the pharmacy example, the University would have to offer all students fitting that description a separate class and pay me to teach only to Aryan students. Of course in reality they would simply fire me, pointing out that I took the job understanding that it requires me to treat all students equally and carry out all duties under my job description. No one would coddle me. But let's say I was something tamer than a neo-Nazi Christian fringe believer. Let's say I don't believe in evolution. If I taught biology, could I just skip any mention of evolution? No, I'd be asked to do what the job requires: to present the scientific consensus on evolution. That's what the students are paying for.

This brings me, albeit very indirectly, to the case of a Georgia student seeking an MA in Counseling who refuses to accept the scientific consensus in her field as part of her job requirement. Jennifer Keaton is suing Augusta State University because she claims the school is attempting to "force (her) to change (her) beliefs" that homosexuality is a deviant condition that should be cured. ASU is, well, a terrible school (US News labels it "4th Tier"). It is about the 8th best school in Georgia, and Georgia isn't exactly California when it comes to the university system. So with all due respect to their students, I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that Ms. Keaton isn't exactly the cream of the academic crop. She may even be a complete idiot, which is ad hominem on my part but also explanatory of the basic problem with her position.

You can believe whatever you want to believe, dear. You can believe that the world is ruled by alien lizard people, the moon landing was a hoax, or that 9/11 was an inside job. You can believe that down is up. It really doesn't matter. What the profession you seek to enter demands, however, is that you do your job as legal and professional rules dictate. No one gives a shit if you think Teh Gays need to be cured. A psychologist's job is not to impose personal beliefs on a client/patient. There is no scientific evidence for the beliefs in question – being gay is a choice, gays are sick, etc. – and thus you are entitled to believe them but forbidden to use your position of influence to impose them on people who come to you for treatment. A patient seeing a psychologist expects to be treated according to an understanding of recognized medical disorders, not according to what some name they got out of the Yellow Pages thinks. If you cannot understand the problem inherent in letting psychologists ignore the DSM and substitute their personal beliefs at their own discretion, I think I might be able to explain why you are on the verge of getting kicked out of a 4th-rate school.

The University should make it clear that Keaton will receive her degree when she understands the job description of the field she is attempting to enter. I won't hold my breath. There are some reasonable solutions here – seek a degree from Bob Jones University or someplace that will reinforce her worldview and/or get a job at a private school, preferably run by fundamentalists, that will accept her conception of the job as a pulpit for preaching one's own beliefs. What won't fly is to expect ASU and the profession as a whole to let each member write his or her own set of rules, standards, and job descriptions.

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28 Responses to “THE JOB DESCRIPTION”

  1. chautauqua Says:

    What worries me more than hypothetical pharmacists making the job conform to their own particular ideology is the idea that, given a precedent, doctors might then decide that nonbelievers are not entitled to medical treatment. But as you say, Ed, the world would quickly become chaos if everyone was afforded the opportunity to exercise their belief system in the performance of their job. And I'm more than a little concerned about the idea of home schooling as well. What if college and post graduate students claimed equal recognition of their home-schooled talents?

  2. Hann1bal Says:

    So, my dad has been a pharmacist for almost thirty years now. One time, we talked about this particular topic, and he was simply disgusted with the idea that any pharmacist would use their personal religious beliefs to determine what they would or would not dispense. Sure, he dislikes psychiatrists because he feels that their solution to everything is "more pills", but he'll still fill their prescriptions. This sort of thing is stupid and wrong, and firing these sorts of people is thoroughly justified.

    EDIT: Holy balls. I just clicked through to the article, and I realized that she was my RA during my first semester. Uh, small world, I guess. Wow.

  3. duck-billed placelot Says:

    Hasn't Rand Paul shown the way forward on this? All the little, principled dear needs to do is create her own licensing board! Or university, I guess, and then licensing board. And she can name them Augusta Street University and the Georgia Bored of Professional Counselors! The free market will sort it out!

  4. RosaLux Says:

    Well, at least we can laugh about the fact that her lawsuit is a total loser. I know of no constitutionally protected right to have the belief that "homosexuality is deviant" (whatever that means). I look forward to watching her suit go down in flames.

    What is not laughable is the percentage of Americans who still believe that being gay is a choice and therefore a mutable quality. It's not just loony right-wingers in Georgia. Many liberals, particularly of the older generation, still believe this, or are uncomfortable with gay people in general, even if their discomfort doesn't rise to the level of sheer abhorrence and intolerance.

  5. Joe Max Says:

    The point is, it really doesn't matter if being gay is a "choice" or not. That doesn't make a damn bit of difference in the realm of legal and civil rights. It's a choice that every citizen has the right to make for themselves, without any diminishing of their rights as a citizen.

  6. tinamou Says:

    I am honestly a little impressed that Keaton managed to make such a nuisance of herself that the school got up the guts to tell her she can't just rant at patients about how Jesus hates them. It's not easy to get a Georgia university official to tell students to keep their insane brand of Christianity a little more to themselves.

    Also, on behalf of all queer people everywhere, I have one thing to say to the professors who suggested Keaton head to the nearest Gay Pride Parade to learn some tolerance: What the hell are you thinking?! Pride parades aren't there to show insane homophobes that we're Just Like Everyone Else. That's what PFLAG pamphlets and the more outre Lifetime made for TV movies are for. Pride parades are a chance to wear ridiculous outfits, get drunk in the middle of the day, and enjoy some strength in numbers for once. Sort of like St Patrick's Day was, back when Irish immigrants faced some actual hostility in the US (but also wanted to get drunk and party). I can't imagine being heckled by 7 foot tall drag queens (including shoes) or browsing the lube selection of local sex toy shop is going to help Keaton warm to treating some poor gay high school student with respect or human dignity.Don't get me wrong, I love drag queens and sex toy stores, but this is just not the way to go.

    And more importantly, I doubt any of the actual participants would want her there. It's a public event and Keaton can come if she wants to, but I'm a little disappointed that her professors thought it was more important to blow her little mind than to let the entire LGBT community of Augusta enjoy their biggest event of the year without one more hater sneering at them. Not everything queer people do together is about helping sheltered, bigoted assholes realize the error of their ways. Actually, most of the fun of something like pride comes from taking a break from worrying what people who hate you think. The ASU faculty shouldn't ruin that in a misguided attempt to change Keaton's mind, they should tell her to go home and think very hard about whether she'd rather keep her homophobia private or pick a new line of work.

  7. Michael Says:

    "If I taught biology, could I just skip any mention of evolution?"

    Are you talking High School or College? Because there are numerous "teach the controversy" measures being brought by school boards and countless issues of teachers straight up ignoring evolution all the time in High Schools. However, I assume in actually accredited colleges, such bullshit does not so often occur. Or at least one would hope.

  8. displaced Capitalist Says:

    Just another diploma mill churning out degrees to anything with 100k of unforgivable non-expiring loans and three to four years of patience.

  9. Hazy Davy Says:

    I'm always impressed by your use of "what if" anecdotes to illustrate the problem with some ideas, by putting them in a different context.

    Also worth noting: the "take it to extremes" consequence of "conscience clauses" would be that the government would dispense birth control pills. I doubt the 700 club would be excited about that.

    Sadly, as @Michael points out, "pride in ignorance" zealouts still make the same argument wrt evolution (and no, not just Darwinism as explaining the origin of homo sapiens, but the fact that mutations occur and natural selection propagates the most appropriate for the environment).

    I also suspect your little plaintiff is getting what she wants: publicity.

  10. skyskier Says:

    Ed you missed the golden opportunity of knocking down one of the mouth-breather's favorite whine: the Politically Correct label. You see, anytime there is an appearance of coddling non-fascist ideals than it's "that damn PC crap". When the coddling is for right-wingers, it's all "godly values" and shit.

    BTW, I say appearance of coddling since usually the incidents trotted out as examples of PC-mania are as made-up as the rest of the swill.

  11. bb in GA Says:

    You need to choose wisely on which hill you want to make your stand. It is also incumbent on you to practice due diligence about the path in front of you.

    As a Libertarian-Conservative, I agree w/ Ed, who would not be a slaughter house hero, that our Miss Wannabe Counselor did not think this thing through clearly.

    If she had an epihany vis-a-vis the gay issue sometime after her squeezing the trigger on her ASU education, then "do the right thing" means she either stuff her new found issue or retire from the field and study accounting or something.

    This also applies to Muslim cab drivers who somehow can't abide the uncleanness of dogs ( I have had as many as 6 strays at once – now have 4).

    Allah don't like dog spit.

    Therefore said cabbies won't pick up fares with Seeing Eye or Service Dogs. They need to find something else to do.

    //bb

  12. comrade x Says:

    I am suing this blog because the author refuses to acknowledge the One True Belief that the Old Ones created human beings as a joke and a food source.
    See you in court, sir

  13. John Says:

    I hold a very firm, deeply-rooted religious belief that two plus two does not, in fact, equal 4, but rather G.

    And since our oppressive, anti-Johnstian government is trying to force me to change my belief from 2+2=G to 2+2=4, I guess I get to sue them now.

  14. chautauqua Says:

    If I recall correctly, Pastor Rod Flash of The Church of the Blinding Light of the Presumptuous Assumption stated quite clearly that god personally told him that 2 + 2 equals H, not G. My lawyers will be contacting your lawyers directly.

  15. HoosierPoli Says:

    An MA in "Counseling"? I'm not sure that qualifies as psychology. But I look forward to her getting canned from an elementary school for making confused young kids cry.

  16. acer Says:

    The world is pretty much constantly "forcing me to change my beliefs." Lawyer up! We're gonna be rich!

  17. comrade x Says:

    bb: In my hometown the market pretty much took care of Muslim cab drivers who got a weed up their butts over passengers carrying dogs, booze, and who knows what else. They were out competed by Christian cabbies from Liberia and Nigeria, who actually started putting signs on their cabs advertising that they would placed no restrictions on their passengers' luggage. A few years later you are hard pressed to find a cabbie at the airport who was not from some Christian part of West Africa.
    BTW, the whole taboo about dogs seems to be regional and limited to East Africans. It cuts across religious lines- Christian Ethiopians and Kenyan animists aren't crazy about dogs either.

  18. ts46064 Says:

    @ Michael
    Please correct me if I'm wrong but I thought Kitzmiller v. Dover banned 'teaching the controversy' and intelligent design.

    @ BB
    While I certainly agree that if a Muslim cabbie refuses to drive a blind person with a service dog they are in the wrong business, The Americans with Disabilities Act bans it. They must grant access to their cab no matter their religion.

  19. Elle Says:

    Word on Pride not being a learning and growing environment for the homophobic fundamentalist. Shouldn't they have been addressing some of this in her own counselling/supervision sessions?

    The tension between the individual's right to manifest their religion, and the rights of LGBT people to do anything at all are playing out in the UK. (Along with issues around how you treat religious practices/observance within an equalities framework.)

    Sexual orientation (and gender identity) and religion & belief (including atheism, and other non-political philosophical beliefs) are protected characteristics in the UK, and it's unlawful to discriminate against either group in employment or in the provision of goods, facilities, and services.

    The introduction of GFS protection on the grounds of sexual orientation was prefaced by the most shameful flummery on the part of religious groups, including the suggestion that it meant that a printer that produces Bibles would have to print gay porn, or be burned to the ground.

    Since the introduction of the various bits of regulation through the last decade, the cases coming forward have hammered at the tension between religion and sexual orientation. (They've also contained an unhealthy amount of "if the Muslims are allowed to wear the hijab/chador/jilbab then we demand things too", even if those cases haven't been successful.)

    The grain of judgments has been protective of LGB rights. A registrar who refused to perform civil partnerships as well as civil marriages lost the employment tribunal she took after being disciplined by her employer, as well as her appeal. The Church of England lost a case after refusing to hire a gay youth worker. However, the only Catholic adoption agency not to sever its links with the church, or shut down, in the wake of the sexual orientation regulations, has taken a case which goes to the nub of the problem.

    There is a provision in the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007 which allows for services to be provided to those of a particular sexual orientation, if that is “pursuance of a charitable instrument”. This was intended by the framers to protect organisations that offered services specifically to LGB communities.

    Catholic adoption agencies asked the Charity Commission, which regulates charities, to allow them to vary their memorandums to permit them to provide a service only to heterosexual, married couples. The Charity Commission refused all requests to do so on the grounds that this was discriminatory. The High Court found that because the service provided by one specific agency was so specialised in placing hard to place children, that the Charity Commission should have considered the article 14 (European Convention on Human Rights) issues, which provides (essentially) for discrimination in the public interest. The matter has now been referred back to the Charity Commission, and affirms the adoption agency's reading of the regulations.

    It's hard to see anything other than years and years more of this, amid an entrenching of positions on the part of Christian groups, who seem to be developing quite the persecution complex.

  20. Nunya Says:

    Fifty years ago, it was "acceptable" to keep the "colored" in their place and to refuse to allow them fair access to employment, housing, and even to spend their money in whites only establishment. In modern America, even the most die hard racist at least acknowledges that is is unconstitutional to practice this kind of discrimination. While there have been major strides toward acceptance of the LGB community, there are still holdouts that think it's acceptable to deny fellow tax payers their access to equal rights.

    The good news is that those under 40 largely don't give a shit if you're gay. Want to get married? Sure! It's not like the heteros have done a bangup job of maintaining the sanctity of marriage. Of course, there are quite a few who spout their parents' bigotry but a few years out of the house seems to dispell that myth for all but a few.

    I can only hope that in another 10 years, we all look back in bewildered awe that we, as a "free" society, ever thought it was morally or legally acceptable to deny a fellow citizen the most basic rights afforded to the rest of us. The signs are already pointing strongly in that direction and this dim witted young lady can rightfully take her place of shame.

  21. waldo Says:

    You can believe that the world is ruled by alien lizard people, the moon landing was a hoax, or that 9/11 was an inside job.

    One of these is not like the others. Guess which one.

    She may even be a complete idiot, …errrr, no, she is a complete idiot, the rate of which (idiocy) currently runs about 30% in the US.

  22. Jude Says:

    You can believe that the world is ruled by alien lizard people, the moon landing was a hoax, or that 9/11 was an inside job.

    One of these is not like the others. Guess which one.

    Oooh, I'll play!

    I'm going to to with "the world is ruled by alien lizard people" not being like the others. There's less evidence against that proposition than the other two.

    And what's with the late post, Ed? Come on, goddammit. I'm not paying you not to post.

  23. Bugboy Says:

    Rationalizing with the irrational…is it really worth the effort?

  24. Hazy Davy Says:

    There just isn't enough free pizza in the world.

  25. Michael Says:

    @ts46064
    The Kitzmiller rulling only decided the issue for that district. It was a big deal because it set a precident and involved many of the main proponents from each side in a court case, but school boards are trying all the time get intelligent design or straight up creationism taught in their own districts.

    For example, here's a recent one from Louisiana.
    http://www.2theadvocate.com/news/99153999.html?showAll=y&c=y

  26. Beth Says:

    Ed, thank you for posting on this topic–I teach lots of pharmacy students (who often take women's studies or the odd english course) and I'm constantly amazed at how many of them agree that they should have a "choice" when it comes to dispensing BC pills and the morning after pill. I always remind them that a pharmacist's job is to dispense medication–not to make decisions for their patients. Another example of controlling women!

    As for the Georgia moron, well said.

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