05 November 2006

Attention Oregon State Bar Members!

Some time ago, the powers-that-be in the Oregon State Bar decreed that the bar's official publication would not carry any advertising on behalf of the armed services. The Bar's explanation for this policy is that the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy discriminating against open service by homosexuals violates the organization's bylaws.

The membership of the Oregon State Bar is a diverse lot. Some favor the military's policies against service by openly homosexual people, while others oppose those policies. Some favor a broad right of the armed services to advertise, while others support various restrictions on that right. Some believe that the Bar leadership should focus on its mandate to efficiently regulate the profession and should stay away from overt political proselytizing; others believe the Bar should take a stand on controversial issues which do not directly affect the practice of law in the state.

Especially during wartime, whether to discriminate against speech by the armed services which are supporting our freedoms abroad is a decision which should be made by the members of the bar, rather than by a few leaders. Regardless diverse opinions concerning the military, social policy, and politics, I suspect that most bar members share my belief that it was a mistake for the Bar's leadership to impose its own political sensibilities on the organization's membership.

A petition is currently circulating amongst the members of the Oregon State Bar to correct that mistake. Sponsored by eleven bar members, including several regional bar delegates, the petition proposes that the membership be allowed to consider the following question:
Should the Board of Governors immediately allow the Armed Forces of the United States of America to advertise in the Oregon State Bar Bulletin, notwithstanding anything to the contrary in Article 10 of the Oregon State Bar Bylaws, or any other bylaw provision, rule, or policy of the Oregon State Bar?

If you are an Oregon attorney who believes that the bar's membership should decide its own position on this controversial issue, contact Region Six Delegate Diane Gruber by phone at 503.650.9662 or by e-mail at "dlgesq@aol.com" to receive a copy of the petition.

UPDATE: Professor Eugene Volokh of the Volokh Conspiracy blog has this to say about the petition:
I'm not an Oregon bar member, but if I were, I would sign the petition, and I would vote to exempt the military, for much the same reason as I've given with regard to law schools' failing to exempt military recruiting from their no-sexual-orientation-discrimination rules:
"Perspective," my New Shorter Oxford Dictionary says, is "a mental view of the relative importance" of things. The debate about whether law schools should exclude the military from interviewing on campus is ultimately not about gay rights. It's about perspective.

. . . .

Let's assume the military's discriminatory practices are bad. But isn't the military also doing something good?

The military, after all, protects all of us -— straight and gay -— from foreign attack. That's pretty good. All the rights we have, we have because members of the military have bled to protect them. That's pretty good. During World War II, the American military was racially segregated, which was bad. But it defeated Japan and helped defeat Hitler, which was good. Perspective is what tells us that the good the military does vastly exceeds the badness of its discriminatory practices.

So as a moral matter, excluding the military isn't just remaining pure of complicity with discrimination. Rather, it's remaining pure by shunning the institution that protects our liberty, our equality, and our lives from forces far worse than "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" can ever be.

. . . .

[P]erspective reminds us that those institutions that defend our lives deserve slightly more accommodation -— yes, even despite what we may see as their vices -— than institutions that don't. And any morality and any symbolism that fails to keep this proper perspective is not a morality or symbolism to live by.

Professor Volokh also has made a .pdf copy of the petition available at his site for downloading and (by Oregon Bar members) execution.

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