Strawmen, and Herrings, and Pity. Oh My!

Photo Credit: AP Photo/Eric Risberg

Whether over gay rights, education, religion, or some other firmly rooted conviction, at some point in our lives we have no doubt engaged with one or more people in a debate. Such discussions can be a healthy way of offering people an opportunity to see our side of things, as well as defending our own positions. The quality of the debate depends on our ability to argue logically; in other words, the soundness and strength of our argument resides in our ability to arrive at a conclusion by way of correct reasoning. Conversely, fallacies are claims or responses that lack merit because they do not satisfy the conditions of a logical argument – they are an error in reasoning. Recent headlines demonstrate these flawed arguments are becoming more common, or at the very least, reveal just how frequent and pervasive they are. The most recent example comes from billionaire Tom Perkins in his letter to the editor of The Wall Street Journal, in which he equates the alleged persecution of the 1% of wealthy Americans to Kristallnacht, or the “night of broken glass.” – the event that preceded the round-up, exile, and extermination of millions of Jewish people in Germany during WWII. The use of fallacious reasoning to effect real change has become a disturbing trend pervading a growing number of wealthy citizens and elected officials. While I realize that Perkins’ statement is tactless and indeed offensive to many, this essay aims to address the logical shortcomings of his argument.

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To Bake, or Not to Bake: Does Religious Belief Justify the Discrimination of Same-Sex Couples?


“I don’t plan on giving up my religious beliefs. I don’t feel that I should participate in their wedding, and when I do a cake, I feel like I’m participating in the ceremony or the event or the celebration that the cake is for.” As quoted in the Huffington Post, this statement was made to Fox and Friends by the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, Jack Phillips, in response to a court ruling requiring him to provide wedding cakes to all couples, regardless of sexual orientation. This ruling came about as a response to a suit filed against him by the ACLU. He is one of several business owners who have come under scrutiny for refusing services to same-sex weddings and receptions recently. Similar cases involving  florists and wedding photographers continue to spring up around the country, and they all maintain the same argument; their religious freedom grants them liberty to turn same-sex couples away. Because the religious doctrine to which they subscribe deems homosexuality a sin, they contend that being mandated to provide his services for a gay wedding undermines those views. While it is commendable that business owners wish to maintain the integrity of their convictions, the use of religion as a justification for denying a same-sex couple is seriously flawed, and, at its heart, insincere.

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