What Fresh Hell Is This?

July 20, 2006

A rabbi, a nun, and a reverend walk into a city ethics hearing board...

OK, stop me if you've heard this one before...

Three out of the five persons chosen for Pittsburgh's reactivated Ethics Hearing Board are religious professionals.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, I'm sure that they are all highly ethical people but call me a goddamned, cranky, old atheist for having a visceral reaction to this all too automatic equating of religion with ethics -- especially in a governmental setting. (see world history/current events).

According to the Post-Gazette:
The Ethics Hearing Board has the power to investigate city officials and employees for violations of the city code
I really have no idea why religious professionals who are more concerned with the ethics involved in saving souls are particularly qualified to judge city code violations.

At least one of the board members is a lawyer. Make all the jokes you want to about ethics and lawyers, but that pick does seem a hell of a lot more relevant than the clergy members chosen.


Anonymous said...

uh huh, but you'll support and announce a meeting by the aclu being held and hosted by a church....no double standard there, eh Maria?

Maria said...

Despite your spin, the ACLU is not a campaigning politically, nor is the meeting a candidate meeting so it violates no IRS rules.

Furthermore, the ACLU has represented both ends of the political spectrum.

EdHeath said...

Well, about 2/3 being serious and 1/3 devil’s advocate, I think the religious officials are good choices. I mean, the difference between a lawyers and religious professionals is that lawyers think about violations and clergy think about maybe what we should aspire to. Not that I disagree that a lawyer should be on the ethics board, but lawyers are advocates first, pushing their case. Now, most of my experience with lawyers comes form TV, and very little comes from non-fiction, but I have the feeling the advocate is trying to win the case for their client in part if possible by finding the loopholes in the ethical guidelines. I even think that perspective is valuable, but I also think the (hopefully) higher standard of religion is also valuable.

The President isn’t a member of the clergy, and I think some clergy in fact oppose some of his policies. I have to say the reference “see world history/current events” is a bit glib. I don’t know that any Pittsburgh clergy have been mentioned in regard to various world or national crises. And at least clergy are *less* likely to see the ethics board position as a possible opportunity to have attract notice and move into or further a political career.

Joke suggestion: "A rabbi, a nun, and a reverend walk into a city ethics hearing board..." and Luke Raven-whats-its asks “is this some kind of a joke?” or “Is this a bar?”

Tim Murray said...

The selection of religious leaders for posts such as these always strikes me as an attempt by the selector to be shielded from criticism that he or she has picked someone with a political ax to grind. But, yes, a lawyer would be a better choice for these, and for that matter, any any and all other positions.

Maria said...


" I have to say the reference “see world history/current events” is a bit glib."

I'll cop to that.

But, I'll repeat that these folks will be judging city code -- really more a matter of the law.

EdHeath said...

Let me try this: lawyers could be placed in a position, current *or* future, where they might have to deal with city officials. Clergy most likely would only ever be in the position of lobbying city officials on behalf of a cause, possibly a high profile cause. So from my perspective, practicing lawyers and other business people have a built in incentive to ignore ethical violations that are not blatant. Clergy might (hopefully will) see it as their obligation to investigate fully any accusation of ethical violations, regardless of whether the city code was written in such a way as to let officials off the hook.

Maria said...

Sorry, but clergy leaders and city officials -- especially city council -- rub up against each other all the time.

City council holds the purse strings, as well as dealing with things like zoning and land use. If a church wants to enlarge it's parking lot, chances are it will come up before city council. If they want a traffic light put up in front of their yeshiva, it will come before city council. If they, as part of the group of non profit organizations, want to argue how much if anything should be given back to the city, it comes up in city council. If the URA wants to purchase property from a church/church group/church community center it comes before city council. Etc., etc., etc.

And, then there's the many times politicians reach out to religious organizations for votes and the number of times these groups receive proclamations from city officials.

Furthermore, these clergy members would not have been chosen if they did not already know city officials.

I'm not saying that they are any more or less susceptible to overlooking their obligations to investigate officials than non-clergy members -- I'm just disputing your assumption that they have any more or less motivation to do so then non-clergy members.