Loyalty: Guideline or Rule?

Guest Post by: Megan Reese Heinzinger, Writer and Trap & Skeet Enthusiast

Being loyal is a good thing, right?

At least, that’s what we’ve been taught…

Philosopher, Josiah Royce, believed that loyalty should be the single, guiding ethical principle when it comes to all decision making. Easy enough, just be loyal—and you will always make the “right” decision. But what about when that strong loyalty is to a not-so-worthy cause? Would you still be considered a “morally straight” citizen?

Take the case of Kim Davis, a Kentucky clerk who refused to grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples—an action which is literally against the law. She was loyal to her religious beliefs and even celebrated by some for doing so. When it came to the competing loyalties of Davis’s religion and her duty to the state as a county clerk she stated that “God’s will is more important than the supreme court’s.”

LegalDavis denied the right of marriage to people she viewed as unworthy of it by refusing to issue marriage licenses. She indeed remained “loyal” but to a cause she may not has recognized as discrimination. The United States Supreme ruled in favor of same-sex marriage, thus supporting the American ideal that all people are equal in the eyes of the law. In order to avoid religious preference or discrimination the tenet of separation of church and state has been woven into the fundamental fibers of this country. Allowing Davis to discriminate against same-sex couples due to religious beliefs would be no better than allowing the KKK or any other “religious community” to legally discriminate. Consider the original United States settlers who came to America to escape religious persecution. They felt it unfair that beliefs not their own should be forced upon them. Is it any different from Davis taking away rights from her position of authority by forcing her beliefs on others?

It’s time to reevaluate: Religious beliefs do not warrant discrimination. Loyalty by itself does not a moral person make— a worthy cause is also necessary. When it comes to distinguishing a cause worthy of loyalty, Royce wrote that a worthy cause should harmonize with the loyalties of others within the community. This is key— our loyalties must aim to serve and not conflict with the people around us. Now, this does not mean we should succumb to immoral behavior because it is displayed around us. Core loyalties should adhere to the rights given to us in a community. For same-sex couples in the United States, marriage is a right: one that Kim Davis chose to deny in honoring her own misled loyalty. A frustrated county clerk patron properly summed up Davis’ poor choice of loyalty in stating, “[Kim Davis’] interpretation of the bible does not trump the constitution.”

Is there understanding to be had for Davis? She felt she was doing the right thing according to her personal interpretation of religious teachings. Others might say however, her intentions were contradictory in that they excluded God’s teaching of doing unto others as you would have done unto yourself. This is where critical reasoning comes into play. A proper code of ethics involves consideration of loyalties, but situational decision making as well.

As college students getting ready to start careers, it is vital to be able to weigh decisions based on the appropriate loyalties. Working and living with others requires that we take each others’ needs and beliefs into consideration. The answer is cohesive understanding, sharing, and acceptance of ideas and beliefs. Ethical decision making relies not upon blindly following loyalties, but on reasonably analyzing, considering, and weighing them. Truthfully, no certain loyalty can always churn out the right answer for you—you must decide based on the loyalties involved in each unique situation. Loyalties are guidelines, but you are the decision maker.