July 9, 2008

N&O "a matter of conscience"

Would you retire rather than honor a man you believe was not honorable? The News and Observer reports that is what L.F. Eason III, the manager of the state standards lab did yesterday. He retired rather than order the flag at his office lowered to half staff to honor the late Senator Jesse Helms. The Dept. of Agriculture debates whether Eason was given an ultimatum but it is clear that Eason was told "lower the flag or face the consequences".
The consequences were disciplinary action and possibly dismissal. Eason chose to resign. A superior then ordered another employee to lower the flag.

Separate articles explain the Ag Dept.'s version and provide an emailed explanation Eason sent to coworkers. The email reads in part:
"I made a decision to refuse to lower our flags at the NC Standards Laboratory to half mast in honor of Jesse Helms as soon as I heard of his death. I cannot in good conscience honor such a man who fought so hard against Civil and Human Rights throughout his life. Even to his death bed, he refused to apologize for the damage he caused. Now, I stand by this decision. It is a personal decision, but obviously affects my job at the lab. It has been over ruled by Division and Departmental Management and as I look out my window, I'm ashamed to see the flags lowered ...

"I also understand that my decision is not acceptable. You cannot ignore that fact. There is the law, but there is also a higher law I must follow as a matter of conscience."
Resignation in protest is a not uncommon statement. Attorney General Archibald Cox refusing to fire the special Watergate prosecutor for Pres. Nixon comes to mind. The Iraq war has generated a few less notable examples as well. Resignation in protest, though, separates the employee from the ongoing actions of an organization. Eason's action seems somehow different. By honoring Helm's, the state certainly provided at least tacit acknowledgment of his discredited views on race and Helm's other objectionable actions. By resigning Eason called attention to those views but he changed nothing in state government since state government does not espouse Helm's views. All he seems to have accomplished is gotten an honorable man an early out. I am not sure that was a good thing.
I applaud Mr. Eason's convictions and his courage. I wish him well and hope his decision does not hurt him or his family. I think I would have just stayed home.

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