The Undeniable Ruth Rotating Header Image

Wheaton’s Law

The Slippery Slope of the Hobby Lobby Fallout

Earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the Hobby Lobby case that a closely-held for-profit company could use their religious beliefs as a reason to refuse to pay for birth control their employees. I think the court was 100% wrong in this decision and I’m annoyed that it’s probably going to take us decades to undo the damage this ruling is going to cause.

Hey, You Got Your Church In My State! by David Goehring from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Hey, You Got Your Church In My State! by David Goehring from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

I’m a huge advocate for the separation of church and state and the notion that people can have whatever religious beliefs they want, as long as they don’t try to inflict them on others. This ruling crosses that line. If the federal government passed a law that says companies with 50 employees or more have to provide certain health insurance to employees and a company doesn’t like it, their options should have been to pay the penalty for violating the law or shrink their company so the law wouldn’t apply to them, not getting an exception based on religious beliefs.

This week I read about a similar case – a pharmacy in Washington State wants to refuse on religious grounds to stock and dispense Plan B (the morning after pill) even though all pharmacies are mandated by state law to carry it.

Here’s my take on these situations – laws should be passed for the good of the general public. If you don’t like a law, don’t put yourself in a situation where you have to abide by it. If you’re a pharmacist who dislikes your state’s laws about what products you have to carry, get out of the business or move to a state that doesn’t have that requirement.

There are plenty of laws that I don’t like but I accept that I have to follow them or accept the penalty if I get caught breaking them. I can try to get the law changed, but until that happens, I’m stuck with them.

Having legally recognized exceptions written into laws is one thing, but giving people the ability to refuse to follow the law based on religious beliefs is a slippery slope. When I was an undergrad, I was furious to learn that a pharmacist at the student health center wasn’t filling prescriptions for the morning after pill because of her religious beliefs so students could only get that prescription filled when she wasn’t working. She should have been fired for that. What’s next – a clerk at a sex shop telling his boss that he’s ok with selling sex toys but he can’t sell porn because it violates his religion? Or a biblical literalist who works at a department store who claims she can’t ring up customers who buy garments made of more than one fabric?

If I had to claim a religion, I’d say it’s Wheaton’s Law (“Don’t be a dick”). As a business owner, I get to handpick who I do business with, and I don’t work with clients who are dicks. But if there was a law that said I had to, I’d look for a way to change my business to get out of it or make it worth my while. However, if I was ever someone’s employee again, I would never get away with that. If I refused a direct order from my superior, claiming that dealing with dicks violated my religious beliefs, I’d expect to be fired.

(Mental note: If business owners and employees are allowed to violate or get exceptions to the law based on religious beliefs, I need to start documenting my sincerely held religious beliefs which are not affiliated with any official religion so I can use them to get my way when it suits me.)

Dealing with the Lawyer Stereotype

The legal profession has an image problem. One of the reasons why lawyer jokes are funny is because there is a kernel of truth to them. When you hear about lawyers on the news, it’s related to a newsworthy case or lawyers who did something severely unethical or illegal. These are the lawyers who are painting the picture of the profession.

And here’s what it looks like. I posted a simple question on Facebook and Reddit: “When you hear the word “lawyer” what phrases, stereotypes, gut reactions, or ideas come to mind?” Here are some of the responses I got:

Jerk Center by Sarah_Ackerman

Jerk Center by Sarah_Ackerman from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Gladiators
Addicts
Selfish
Expensive
Rip off
Money grubbers
Dishonest
Smart
Patronizing
Insensitive
Sharks
Narcissists
Power-hungry
Slick
Ambulance chaser
Snakes
I won’t be in a hurry to be friends with them, but I’d rather them be friends than enemies.
They’ll do whatever it takes to lie for their client, even if it means letting a murderer go free, as long as their paid.
Always synonymous with human filth

A lot of these responses came from my Facebook friends – people who like me and know what I do for a living.

Sometimes I forget that there’s a nasty stereotype associated with the legal profession. I’m reminded of it when I do speaking engagements where I get feedback like this:

  • “I have heard several students say that it was the most helpful lecture they have attended. I also heard that they really enjoyed having a lawyer that added life to the room!”
  • “I feared it was going to be boring, but I figured it’d be like eating broccoli: Not fun, but good for you. I was delighted by Ruth’s presentation. She was engaging and funny – like eating broccoli covered in delicious queso.”
Shark Car Ornament by peggydavis66 from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Shark Car Ornament by peggydavis66 from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

I know I’m not a typical lawyer in terms of personality and hobbies, but I forget that it is strikingly different than what a lot of people think of when they think of a lawyer. Even though I don’t fit the stereotype, I don’t see myself as that different from my counterparts in regards to work ethic, an enjoyment of the law, and a desire to help people – the things that really matter to potential clients.

So what’s the solution to the awful lawyer stereotype? I don’t know. The only thing I can think of is since we’re a self-regulating profession, we should have an expectation that we all follow Wheaton’s Law (“Don’t be a dick”). We shouldn’t tolerate arrogance, narcissism, or insensitivity in our dealings with our clients or each other. I wish more law schools would reject applicants and law firms would turn down candidates or fire people for being jerks. I don’t know what else we can do to show that the lawyers who make it on the news are the exception and not the rule for what it means to be a lawyer.

I was pleased to see that a few responses to my question that showed not everyone hates lawyers. One said a lawyer is a “[t]rusted advisor, hopefully.” Another said we’re the “[d]efenders of the weak.” At least some people know we’re not all bad.

See also: Lawyers’ Bad Reputations Start with Arrogant Law Students.

Wheaton’s Law is my Religion If Brewer Signs SB 1062

The Arizona legislature passed SB 1062/HB 2153 last week. They call it a law to protect your right to “exercise your religion” but what it really does is give businesses the ability not to do business with someone if it violates their “religious beliefs.” What it does is give businesses the ability not to do business with members of the LGBT community.

My Wheaton's Law T-Shirt

My Wheaton’s Law T-Shirt

This law is fucked up on a lot of levels. While so many states and cities are legalizing same-sex marriage and updating anti-discrimination laws to include sexual orientation and gender identity, Arizona is moving backwards and trying to legalize segregation. It’s frustrating that the majority of the Arizonans oppose this proposed law, including several business organizations, but an influential minority was able to push it through both houses.

Here’s what’s really fucked up about this law – your “religious beliefs” don’t have to be affiliated with any officially recognized religion;” they only have to be your sincerely held religious beliefs.

I’m pretty agnostic but I do have some firmly held beliefs that are as dear to me as some religions are to others. One of those beliefs is Wheaton’s Law – “Don’t be a dick.” This rule was created by actor-author-gamer Wil Wheaton to encourage good sportsmanship during online gaming, and it has spread to and been adopted in everyday life. If you want your own Wheaton’s Law t-shirt, it’s available online.

Sign at Rocco's Little Chicago Pizzeria

Sign at Rocco’s Little Chicago Pizzeria

And yes, just because Wheaton’s Law isn’t affiliated with any official religion or culture that requires some type of worship practice, it doesn’t mean it can be a religious belief. According to Dictionary.com, a religion is merely, “a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.” Note that superhuman agency and ritual observances are not required; therefore, Wheaton’s Law can be a religious belief.

Open to everyoneSo if Governor Brewer signs this bill into law, it will give me, and anyone else who considers Wheaton’s Law to be part of their religion, the ability to refuse to do business with anyone who acts like a dick. This will include any members of Arizona Senate and House of Representatives who voted in favor of this discriminatory law. I wonder how fast they would change their stance on this law if suddenly their grocery store, gas station, salon, landscapers, golf course, gym, neighborhood bar, and the private school where they send their kids refused to do business with them. (Hat tip to Rocco’s Little Chicago Pizzeria for posting a sign that says they refuse to do business with Arizona Legislators after this bill passed.)

Some groups, like One Community, are taking the high road and saying that all are welcome to do business with them and encouraging others to do the same. And good for them – I’m too pissed off to be the bigger man on this one.

Please contact Governor Brewer’s office and tell her to veto this hellaciously discriminatory bill. You can call her at 602-542-4331 or 520-628-6580. You can also sign the petition about SB 1062 on Change.org.

[Note: I sent Wil Wheaton an email about claiming Wheaton’s Law as a religious belief if SB 1062 is signed. He didn’t respond so I interpreted that to mean that he didn’t object – at least not enough to tell me about it. I mean no disrespect to Wil Wheaton or Wheaton’s Law with this post.]

Bonding with my Fellow Geeks at Phoenix Comicon

It’s Phoenix Comicon this weekend! I feel like Geek Christmas is upon us. I love going to geek events because from the moment I walk in, I know I’m surrounded by people who “get it.” We don’t have to explain why we love what we love, we just get to enjoy it with our fellow geeks. This weekend, we’re taking over the Phoenix Convention Center. It’s going to be a fun time.

Ruth Carter at Phoenix Comicon, Photo by Devon Christopher Adams

Speaking at Phoenix Comicon 2012 – Photo by Phoenix Comicon and Devon Christopher Adams

I’m excited that the powers that be at Phoenix Comicon have asked me to be part of two panels this year:

  • The Legalities of Fan Fiction and Fan Art – Saturday, May 25th at 3pm
  • Comic Creator Rights – Sunday, May 26th at 10:30am

The variety and array of events at Phoenix Comicon this year is huge! I spent a good chunk of last weekend going through the schedule and building out my conquest. Here’s what’s on my docket besides my talks:

Friday, May 24th

  • Deep Space Nine: 20 Years Later – I’m a huge DS9 fan so I’m super excited for this.
  • From Bullying to Harmony: Understanding and Dealing with Bullying – great panel for this audience.
  • Phoenix Ultimate Geek Smackdown III – this is definitely one of the best events at Phoenix Comicon.
  • Awesome Hour with Wil Wheaton – If I haven’t turned into a pumpkin yet.

Saturday, May 25th

  • Hit Phoenix Public Market for lunch before going to Phoenix Comicon.
  • Klingon Language for Beginners – I’ve always wanted to learn Klingon. I tried to learn with the tapes, but I only picked up a handful of words.
  • Trek Fandom in the Valley – I’ve been thinking I want to do more with the Trek community.

Sunday, May 26th

  • Wheaton and Scalzi, Together Again – I’ll go if I’m not conned out by this point. Given that I’m a massive introvert and don’t particularly like large crowds of people, I probably will be.

There are some sci-fi speed dating events. It might be interesting in doing this, but given that a lot of people go to cons to hook up and that’s not my bag, this might not be for me.

Of course there is also the vendor room at Phoenix Comicon too. I’m always on the market for a good geeky t-shirt. The challenge is finding ones that aren’t printed on super cheap itchy shirts. Having custom shirts made at Brand X has turned me into a bit of a t-shirt snob. I’d love to get a Star Trek or a Wheaton’s Law t-shirt.

I’ve lost at least 20 pounds since my bought my Starfleet uniform so now it’s too big for me to wear. Seeing the new Star Trek movie has inspired me to get a new one. I’d love to have Uhura’s dress from the movie for when I’m feeling sassy and a gray-and-black jumpsuit from Deep Space Nine for every day wear. I’m also on the lookout for a morphsuit too – probably in royal blue, though it would be fun to get one in black and pretend to be people’s shadows.

I’m really looking forward to getting my geek on and bonding with my fellow nerds this weekend. Hopefully I’ll see you there!