The APA and Discrimination

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There's a movement right now in the American Philosophical Association to prevent schools that have a code of conduct restricting sexual behavior to within heterosexual marriage from advertising in the main job market publication of the field, which is run by the APA.

Before I look to what I think is the key moral issue here, I want to make a few things clear. One is that the current APA policy allows de facto discrimination on the part of participating institutions. The proposed change would mean the APA is actually engaging in discrimination, because they would be excluding schools with a statement of faith or moral code of a certain sort. If you have a choice between allowing someone else to engage in de facto discrimination and engaging in discrimination yourself, then other things being equal you ought to do the former. Aside from pure consequentialists, most philosophers should be willing to count that in favor of retaining the current practice, other things being equal.

The second is that the discrimination in question is merely de facto, not facial. I've seen people calling it facial discrimination, and it's plainly not. This distinction is found in legal discussions, including court decisions going all the way up to the Supreme Court. Facial discrimination is basically discrimination that wears its discrimination on the surface or on its face. Facial discrimination on the basis of race is discrimination for the obvious reason of the person's race. De facto discrimination, on the other hand, is simply an effect of diminishing the likelihood of inclusion by someone of the group in question. A policy of giving priority to people you know when you hire a new employee has the effect of giving white employers more likelihood of white employees, and since white employers are more often interviewing for top jobs you will see a racial effect given that people's friends more often than not are disproportionally one's own race compared to the percentages in the general population. Courts have consistently refused to tolerate de facto discrimination claims as legally problematic for obvious reasons. There has to be intent to discriminate on the basis of race for a race discrimination claim, and it pretty much has to wear it on its face.

In this case the kind of discrimination we're dealing with is not sexual orientation discrimination on its face. The discriminating element is a choice to hire people who share one's views and/or practices. These schools are hiring only those who will sign a statement of faith or conduct that includes either the view that same-sex sexual relations are immoral or a commitment not to engage in such practices. This will indeed certainly have a disproportionate effect of eliminating gay people more than straight people, but it's not discrimination according to sexual orientation. It's discrimination according to moral viewpoint or behavior.

Third, some people in this discussion are simply insisting on consistency with the APA's existing policy on discrimination. They want the APA to change their discrimination statement if they're going to allow these institutions to participate. If these people are being honest, then they wouldn't mind one way or the other if the APA (a) stops allowing these schools to participate or (b) removes their language against discrimination from their official stances. I tend to doubt that this is a very large group who care only about consistency. I suspect most of the people signing this thing are advocating just (a) and would disapprove of (b). But I think those making the consistency argument should not use it alone to favor (a) over (b).

But I don't think any of those concerns gets to the heart of the central moral issue here. The main difficulty I see is that the APA has to decide between (1) allowing schools that de facto discriminate and (2) enacting their own discriminatory practice. They need a clear argument why their own discrimination would be much less bad than merely tolerating someone else's. I think we in fact face the opposite situation, but that's what's going to take some argument. The rest of the post is my reasoning for that claim.

I'm not a big fan of those who claim religious persecution because their public schools won't allow Christmas songs to be sung in their holiday concert, including only secular tunes like Jingle Bells or Frosty the Snowman. I do think it's pretty stupid to include songs from religions other than Christianity for their holidays but then using Jingle Bells to represent Christianity, as I've heard of some schools doing. But I think it exaggerates things greatly to call this persecution of any serious sort, and it diminishes our sense of the real suffering Christians currently face worldwide and have faced for two millenia for their faith.

Nevertheless, I do consider such a move by the APA, if it ends up occurring, to be a kind of religious persecution of an immoral sort, one that I see as very similar to President Obama's desire to prevent freedom of choice on the part of medical professionals with regard to whether they participate in abortion. This is the main way anyone can advertise a job in philosophy, and if Christian schools with traditionally Christian moral codes are disallowed, then I think the profession has engaged in some pretty serious discrimination, even if it's meant to combat a different kind of discrimination. The question then becomes which discrimination is more important. Is it worse to disallow people to take a job teaching at a school that disapproves of gay sex if the person happens to engage in gay sex, or is it worse to prevent such schools from advertising in the one main publication that allows Christian schools to participate in mainstream philosophical activity? I think the answer is pretty obvious. The second is far worse, and I think this is obvious even if you don't accept the moral framework of these schools.

Consider the group of people who would be harmed by the first kind of discrimination. The main impact of these schools' policies is on those who might seek to teach at these schools if there weren't such a policy. Since most of these schools have a pretty conservative statement of faith, they have to be pretty much like mainstream evangelicals in their moral and theological views. So for there to be a problem they both have to (1) accept the full authority of the Bible and want to teach at a school with the same view and (2) not accept the actual teaching of the Bible on this issue but accept a reinterpretation of the texts in question that takes a good deal of cognitive dissonance and revisionism. There are such people. I'm not going to pretend that it's a non-existent category. But I want it to be clear exactly how restricted this group is. What the APA is proposing is that these conservative evangelical institutions remove that one element but retain the rest if their philosophy departments want to participate with full APA privileges. They'd be forced to hire professors who don't accept their stance on this issue, which undermines the very idea of having a moral code to begin with. Is it worth it for the very small group of otherwise conservative evangelicals who happen to have a liberal view on this one issue who might want to teach at conservative evangelical institutions? I don't think so.

Now consider the group harmed by the second policy. If these institutions were not allowed to advertise for their positions, then no school with a sufficiently robust moral code in the conservative Christian tradition would be allowed to participate in the primary venues of hiring in the field of philosophy. There's been a great deal of movement in philosophy in the last few decades of recognizing philosophy of religion as a legitimate field of study again, largely because of relatively conservative evangelicals and those friendly to such views demonstrating that it's quite possible to hold such views and be a top-notch philosopher. The ridiculous vacant stare that a lot of philosophers give to Christian views is still present, but there's been a lot more respect for evangelical and other conservative Christian philosophers. There are a few pretty good philosophy departments at evangelical institutions, especially when it comes to training graduate students at the masters level to prepare them for good Ph.D. programs. In the 1950s theism of any sort was derided without any serious argument. Christian philosophers have shown that the arguments that had been widely taken as definitive refutations of Christianity turn out not to be all that good as philosophical arguments go.

I don't think the movement to change the APA policy on this matter is driven by a desire to end Christian participation in the APA. I also don't think it's driven by the view that Christianity itself is hardly worth of philosophers' consideration as a serious viewpoint. I'm sure a lot people signing these petitions think that. I've met enough personally who I know would sign such a petition who almost certainly do think that. But I don't think that's the motive. The motive is simply to stop discrimination. My contention is that it's not worth it. It reverses what I would argue has been a very good move toward acceptance of a minority viewpoint in philosophy that happens to have a lot wider acceptance in society at large, and I do think it would be very bad to move in the opposite direction, something that I think the proposed move would cause. But my main reason is that it just seems to me that when you've got two kinds of discrimination to consider, and resisting one means enacting the other, then you ought at least to weigh which would be more harmful rather than simply pretending the one you aren't fighting isn't discrimination. One clearly harms a much wider group, one that faces all manner of obstacles in the philosophical profession. I don't think you need to accept any of the moral views of these conservative institutions to see this.

8 Comments

Jeremy,

There's lots here to comment on,but I thought I'd just comment on a few points. First, you wrote, "There's a movement right now in the American Philosophical Association to prevent schools that have a code of conduct restricting sexual behavior to within heterosexual marriage from advertising in the main job market publication of the field, which is run by the APA." I'm not sure which "movement" you have in mind, but the petition that Hermes wrote calls for something a bit more complicated. It calls on the APA to either apply its standard by refusing to allow certain schools to advertise, to mark the discriminating institutions to indicate that these schools violate the APA's standards, or to admit that they will not enforce their policies and revise them accordingly.

"In this case the kind of discrimination we're dealing with is not sexual orientation discrimination on its face. The discriminating element is a choice to hire people who share one's views and/or practices. These schools are hiring only those who will sign a statement of faith or conduct that includes either the view that same-sex sexual relations are immoral or a commitment not to engage in such practices. This will indeed certainly have a disproportionate effect of eliminating gay people more than straight people, but it's not discrimination according to sexual orientation. It's discrimination according to moral viewpoint or behavior."

This is to interpret the APA's position in a way that it seems most people in the APA do not. To the minds of most members of the APA I've spoken with, they think that discriminating against someone for engaging in sexual conduct just _is_ discriminating against them for orientation. So, it's arguably facial discrimination given the intended meaning of the APA statute.

This I think is just wrong:
"Nevertheless, I do consider such a move by the APA, if it ends up occurring, to be a kind of religious persecution of an immoral sort, one that I see as very similar to President Obama's desire to prevent freedom of choice on the part of medical professionals with regard to whether they participate in abortion. This is the main way anyone can advertise a job in philosophy, and if Christian schools with traditionally Christian moral codes are disallowed, then I think the profession has engaged in some pretty serious discrimination, even if it's meant to combat a different kind of discrimination. The question then becomes which discrimination is more important. Is it worse to disallow people to take a job teaching at a school that disapproves of gay sex if the person happens to engage in gay sex, or is it worse to prevent such schools from advertising in the one main publication that allows Christian schools to participate in mainstream philosophical activity? I think the answer is pretty obvious. The second is far worse, and I think this is obvious even if you don't accept the moral framework of these schools."

It's the APA's publication and it is subsidized by the members of the APA like me. I don't think I should be subsidizing the ads of schools that discriminate against my friends. What happened to freedom of association? If they want to advertise with the APA, they need to play by the APA's rules. If they don't like the APA's rules, they can try to get a critical mass of members to join to change those rules or they can modify their own behavior. I don't think these schools have a leg to stand on. (And, that's quite apart from their horrible moral beliefs concerning homosexuality.)

Well, I have a feeling that this isn't really about consistency and doubt that the vast majority of those signing this thing would be satisfied if the APA made it explicit that this sort of thing is allowed and doesn't constitute the kind of discrimination they have in mind when they say they oppose it.

If the majority of APA members are using the term 'facial discrimination' in a way different from the standard use of it, they're welcome to define it as a technical term when they so use it. I'm not going to use it that way, and I'm not going to assume someone is using it that way unless there's some reason to take it in a way other than its normal use. The distinction between facial discrimination and de facto discrimination was designed expressly to cover cases where the factor being used for discrimination isn't directly to do with the claimed basis of discrimination, so this seems like a paradigm case of non-facial discrimination.

I find it highly unlikely that you're paying for any of these ads. The ads are paid for by the school paying for them. The publication is not a money-making venture, as far as I know, but it's also not a money loss. I don't think APA dues go toward paying for job ads.

This isn't a question of whether it's within a group's legal rights to do what this petition is proposing. Freedom of association is the principle that people have a legal right to gather in groups of their choosing. It isn't the principle that anything such a group does is morally ok. You seem to recognize that when you call most Christians' views on this issue horrible. But once that's clear, it should also be clear that the APA's legal right to discriminate against schools who hold such a view is also not above moral evaluation, and I'm giving an argument that such discrimination is immoral. The argument doesn't rely on any view about the moral status of homosexual sex. It relies on the harm being caused by de facto discrimination of the sort these schools doing being less bad than the harm caused by the facial discrimination of the sort being proposed for the APA to institute. Pointing out that the APA has a legal right to free association doesn't touch the moral argument I'm offering.

"If the majority of APA members are using the term 'facial discrimination' in a way different from the standard use of it, they're welcome to define it as a technical term when they so use it"

That's not what I meant. What I meant was that the evidence suggests that most members of the APA think that giving the meaning of their anti-discrimination policy homosexual conduct is covered because sexual orientation is covered. When I suggested that the APA clarify and say explicitly that they condemn discrimination against behavior as well as orientation, I remember being told that it would be stupid to do so because it is obvious to all that the APA's policy condemns discriminating against behavior.

"I find it highly unlikely that you're paying for any of these ads. The ads are paid for by the school paying for them. The publication is not a money-making venture, as far as I know, but it's also not a money loss. I don't think APA dues go toward paying for job ads."

I didn't say otherwise. My dues and the dues of other APA members goes towards supporting the APA without which there would be no APA to publish the JFP.

"This isn't a question of whether it's within a group's legal rights to do what this petition is proposing. Freedom of association is the principle that people have a legal right to gather in groups of their choosing. It isn't the principle that anything such a group does is morally ok. You seem to recognize that when you call most Christians' views on this issue horrible. But once that's clear, it should also be clear that the APA's legal right to discriminate against schools who hold such a view is also not above moral evaluation, and I'm giving an argument that such discrimination is immoral. The argument doesn't rely on any view about the moral status of homosexual sex. It relies on the harm being caused by de facto discrimination of the sort these schools doing being less bad than the harm caused by the facial discrimination of the sort being proposed for the APA to institute. Pointing out that the APA has a legal right to free association doesn't touch the moral argument I'm offering."

I was too quick in the previous comment. My more careful reply would have been this. I don't see that non-APA entities have any moral claim on who gets to publish in the JFP. So, even if it's bad for some schools to have an asterisk placed next to their name or (God forbid) for them to have to publish job ads on their department webpages I don't see why the members of the APA should care about this (allegedly) bad state of affairs when these schools bring it upon themselves by having policies that discriminate against members of the APA.

Mike's comment 2 down from Clayton's on the original thread on Leiter's site deals with the 'discriminating against conduct/behaviour is not discriminating against orientation' claim. Uses a race example as you do, but seems pretty convincing to me:

http://leiterreports.typepad.com/blog/2009/02/the-apa-and-discrimination-against-homosexualsagain.html?cid=6a00d8341c2e6353ef01116885779c970c#comment-6a00d8341c2e6353ef01116885779c970c

Anon, the link to the comment you're talking about is actually this.

Mike's comment presents a false analogy. The Bob-Jones-like view he considers is the prohibition of sex with people of another race. The analogous prohibition here would be prohibiting sex with people of another sexual orientation, which isn't at all what's going on. It would be a little closer to this if it were preventing sex with someone of a certain sexual orientation, but even that isn't what's going on here. If a gay man marries a heterosexual woman, there's nothing wrong according to these policies with them having sex with each other. It's not a ban on sex with gay people. It's a moral standard about a particular sex act. It has nothing directly to do with whether someone is gay, and therefore it's not discrimination based on sexual orientation. There are far too many counterexamples, and it's quite common for evangelical and Roman Catholic (to take two examples) gay people to marry heterosexually. If this were directed against having sex with gay people, there would be strong opposition to that. There isn't.

What I meant was that the evidence suggests that most members of the APA think that giving the meaning of their anti-discrimination policy homosexual conduct is covered because sexual orientation is covered.

Well, I think most members of the APA are demonstrably wrong, then. Should we cater to misinterpretation and misapplication of a statement that's about one thing that most members of the APA wrongly take to be about another thing?

Now I do think it's obvious that most APA members would condemn the policies in question, but that's another story. The fact that they infer from a policy that doesn't do so something that they also happen to think is true that does do so seems irrelevant to me. These are actually important distinctions, morally speaking, because they significantly affect such questions like whether someone can be gay but be a Roman Catholic priest (and the answer to that turns out to be yes, which should be surprising to the vast majority of APA members given your assessment of their confusion of these two issues).

I don't see how it's relevant that your APA dues support the APA. If I bought a newspaper subscription, and the newspaper ran an ad paid for by a group I disagreed with, it would be inappropriate for me to complain that my subscription fee was going toward paying for such ads. It wouldn't be doing so. Now it's fine and dandy for a newspaper to have rules about who can run ads, and that does seem to be an issue here (but as I've said I don't think their actual rule goes against these ads). But it doesn't seem right to me to complain that your money is being misused just because you disagree with who is paying from a different source of money for those ads to be run.

I agree that non-APA entities have a right to determine who gets to run what ads, and I agree that APA members get to decide that. But there's a moral presumption against excluding groups just because they disagree with those people's practices, given that the APA isn't a group that classifies itself as the professional society for American philosophers who aren't opposed to same-sex sexual activity. I think you'd accept that it would be wrong for the APA to use its ability to exclude people by excluding atheist institutions (if there were any). So you'd accept that having the right to determine who gets to run what ads doesn't mean it's morally ok for them to exclude certain groups.

I'm just saying one of those groups that it would be bad to exclude is this particular group, and the reason is that it's discrimination against a particular religious mindset that I think is more of a moral concern, primarily because it would the APA themselves who are discriminating and secondarily because the group being discriminated against, while much more influential in society at large (although this is rapidly reversing itself) is especially derided and discriminated against in academia, while the group being discriminated against by these schools is more favored in academia than in society at large much less likely to want to be at such schools anyway (it's not as if the cream of the crop of academic institutions are doing this, whereas they are participating in the marginalization of theologically conservative evangelicals).

I'm pretty strongly opposed to the view that, just because A has a moral responsibility toward B to treat B a certain way, B therefore has a right to expect A to do so. I accept the Good Samaritan view of my moral responsibilities. I ought to do as much as I can. I don't accept a category of supererogation. But that doesn't mean I have a right to anyone doing what people ought to do for me. So I don't think these schools have a right to the APA running their ads. But I nevertheless think it would be wrong to refuse to run.

Jeremy,

Well, I think most members of the APA are demonstrably wrong, then. Should we cater to misinterpretation and misapplication of a statement that's about one thing that most members of the APA wrongly take to be about another thing?

The members of the APA are demonstrably wrong about what _they_ meant in their statement? That would be surprising.

I don't see how it's relevant that your APA dues support the APA.

I do. The APA and its members use their money to create a club and thereby have the right to determine its entrance requirements, exit requirements, and standards to determine who associates with with the APA. If outsiders take away that power, they would in effect become partial owners of the club. Some people have been entrusted to run the APA by its members and a critical mass seems to be forming that thinks that it isn't being run properly. What's sad is that if there were schools discriminating against Christians in their hiring practices and they tried to advertise in the JFP I'd throw a fit along with my gay friends. Maybe we're just better people.

When you author a public document, it doesn't just mean what you think it means. Public meaning restricts what it can mean. Besides, the people who wrote that statement and voted it in aren't the same group as those today who would be taking it to mean what you say most APA members take it to mean, even if a lot of people are in both groups. So it's not just interpreting their own statement anyway.

So are you assuming that no one at these schools has membership in the APA? Otherwise I'm not sure why you call them outsiders.

What you're proposing basically is discrimination against evangelical Christians, by your own definition of discrimination. It's not discrimination by a school in hiring, but it is discrimination by the APA in who gets to use its hiring functions. You happen to think it's ok to discriminate according to religion when it's a choice between discriminating according to religion or discriminating according to sex acts. I don't. But I don't think either one of us can say that we oppose everything anyone would call discrimination among these cases.

For the record, I would strongly oppose actual discrimination according to sexual orientation, and I think such discrimination is totally unwarranted among those who have moral objections to homosexual sexual activity. Opposing the sexual acts doesn't not entail opposing people who happen to have their desires inclined that way. I've long thought the Catholic church ought to accept gay priests who undertake a vow of celibacy, and it's only more recently that they've been willing to say explicitly that they would do so. I've long approved of conservative evangelical groups opposed to gay sex being willing to accept leaders who are celibate gays or bisexuals or those who have some homosexual proclivity but enough heterosexual interest to pursue only opposite-sex relations. Someone unwilling to welcome those who are willing to follow the moral code in question who happen to be gay or bisexual would be discriminating against those people merely because of sexual orientation. Someone willing to welcome them while upholding the moral code is not.

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