By concerning itself with Pettit’s off-the-job conduct and punishing her for it, did the Board of Education and the California Supreme Court violate her right to privacy, and how would that...

By concerning itself with Pettit’s off-the-job conduct and punishing her for it, did the Board of Education and the California Supreme Court violate her right to privacy, and how would that support the theory of Ethical Relativism?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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There are a couple of issues at play here.  The first was that Petit was dismissed because of an "immoral" sexual act: It was deemed by the court as an "immoral" sexual act and on those grounds, she was dismissed.  In their case to dismiss Petit, school board officials argued that "Pettit would be unable to set a proper example for her pupils or to teach moral principles to them."  It should be noted that the acts in question took place "in a private home" and with other consenting adults.  Indeed, there was no testimony offered that Petit's actions would or did cross over into the public realm:

No evidence was offered to show that knowledge of her [Petit's] conduct had come to the attention of parents or students. Nor was there any showing that her working relations with colleagues or classroom performance had suffered. Indeed, the majority did not
even argue that such ill effects were likely to occur.

From this, the Court made its findings based on the moral perception of the sex act.  It was an act that was seen as immoral and one that was viewed as "semi- public" given that others saw the act. 

This interpretation is reflective of the time period.  Morals about sexual conduct have changed over time. Consider the "semi- public" claim that the Court offered in Petit.

To a certain extent, this helps to support the idea of ethical relativism in that time passes and what was once viewed as morally wrong or inappropriate can become understood in a different light.

It is in this light where ethical relativism is not fully evident.  Petit suffered from what some call "unfortunate characterization."  Though the categorization and "bright line" that determined what was "morally inappropriate" might not be as clear today.

Sources:

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