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Public Service, Social Justice and Equity

Suspicion should be invoked when “public service,” “social justice” and “equity” are displayed in such close proximity, much more so when used in the same sentence. Connotations associated with each may vary widely according to political ideologies between liberal and conservative factions within our nation. Deeper understandings and definitions of theses trigger-words will require examination of their underlying tones and perceptions which often pit neighbor against neighbor or even brother against brother.

Public service toward humanity can only be considered as an honorable goal or occupation. In John Locke’s Essays on Human Understanding published in 1690 he states, “a man’s ideas are a reflection of his experience.” In a search for greater knowledge and understanding, man may utilize public service as a method for gaining that experience which may not be available by any other means. In such a scenario, he improves himself and those he serves satisfying such biblical admonishments as, “of him whom much is given shall much be required.”  However, in recent years social justice and equity have been overstated and misrepresented in verbal jousting between political ideologies.

Social justice has been defined as the fair and proper administration of laws conforming to the natural law that all persons, irrespective of ethnicity, gender, wealth, race religion, etc. are to be treated equally and without prejudice. The origins and meanings of natural law have been considered and stated by many in philosophy and education. Natural law describes a basic set of principles based on the actions a reasonable man would take to ensure his success or his ability to flourish. These natural laws are a set of general moral standards based on sound practical thinking. They include methods and processes that distinguish between acts that are morally right or morally wrong. Principles of natural law justify the exercise of authority in a community. The “rule of law” with respect to human rights, fulfills a requirement of justice for the purpose of promoting a common good. What is just is that which is “reasonable” or “within reason” according to natural law. Normal human variations among men easily illustrate how differing perceptions of what is needed to survive and flourish may ultimately affect individual moral decisions. If all men were the same, then all needs would be the same. All men then could survive and flourish utilizing identical principles.  All men would possess identical moral values and all men would be equal. But are we all equal?

Mark Levin in Liberty and Tyranny defines equality as, “the ability to live free under self-rule; to obtain and retain that personal property made with one’s own hands; to be treated impartially by just law.” According to the Declaration of Independence, the laws of nature and of nature’s God, all men are created equal. Therefore, before the law all men are equal.  However, in personal and athletic abilities, intelligence, genetic traits for health, body size and shape, etc. humans are not equal. Desperate attempts by any man or government to force both physical and financial equality by statute cannot be seen as reasonable or just in any liberty-loving society.

Society, as an extension of the term social, describes interactions between like-members within a given population. As humans, we associate with other humans fulfilling a basic need of belonging. We congregate according to many different characteristics; occupation, place of domicile, interests, age, color, religion, sex, etc. Class structures within a society have historically failed in civilizations where liberty and equality were considered basic rights. An attempt to empower one class over another creates divisiveness which eventually produces internal strife.

An expanded one-class society assumes characteristics of classical Marxism. Political theology of Marx purports from each according to his ability and to each according to his need to be fair and without prejudice. In this scenario, the collective need of society supersedes the liberty of the individual. If history teaches us one thing, it is that collectivism in society does not succeed. Free-market individualism has created more health, wealth, and prosperity throughout the world than any other form of government.  The extent to which political theology influences principles or perceptions of fairness and prejudice must be weighed against the lessons of history and human nature.

Does public service promote social justice and equality? Public service can enable man to facilitate positive actions for the benefit of his fellow man. If public service empowers man to reach his potential and secure the motivation and spirit of free-market individualism where happiness and safety are preserved, then it has fostered liberty and equality. However, if public service facilitates and defines social justice as that equal station where all men are forced into a common middle class where laws and government programs redistributes the collective wealth of society, we then experience tyranny and oppression.

What does man owe to himself versus society? Public service in the social sense may empower man to become aware of internal prejudice and injustice within him and his society. However, in the social context, public service should not be a function of government. Only man can independently opt for learned moral behavior. The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution did not stop the travesty of slavery. The Civil Rights Act has not eradicated all prejudices in current society. Social justice must evolve from within society and must be voluntary. Public service, free of force or coercion should facilitate man’s ability to fully realize the equality liberty offers to each individual.

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Author: Dr. Eddie Dunlap holds undergraduate degrees from Stephen F. Austin State University and Texas Woman’s University; a Graduate degree from the State University of New York at Buffalo; and a Doctor of Nursing Practice from Texas Christian University. An U.S. Army veteran, Dr. Dunlap has served in leadership positions for his professional associations at the state and national level. Dr. Dunlap practiced in El Paso from 1988 to 2002, practiced in Decatur, Texas for five years, and currently practices in Wichita Falls, Texas. Dr. Dunlap’s first book, America’s Addiction to Entitlements; Not What the Governed Meant is available at amazon.com.

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One Response to Public Service, Social Justice and Equity

  1. Joe Sarcone Reply

    February 25, 2013 at 6:56 pm

    Dr. Dunlap:
    I enjoyed your commentary, it is very instructive. There is a place where public service, social justice and equity are spoken confidently in the same breadth.

    Bias is inherent to the human condition, and as such, governemnt environmental public health programs, and and the public servants that have implemented them, have through the course of history shown well documented instances of bias in passing laws, writing regulations, implementing policy and interacting with communities.

    The result of which was the environmental justice movement which sought the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people, regardless of race, ethnicity, culture, income or education level with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations and policies.

    The culmination of the movement was Presendential Executive Order 12898 that requires that all federal agencies make achieving environmental justice part of their mission by identifying and adressing, disproportionately high and adverse human health or environmental effects on minority and low income populations.

    This means that public servants in every federal agency are tasked as part of their agency mission to acheive social justice and equity in envirnmental public health by identifying and adressing, disproportionately high and adverse human health or environmental effects on minority and low income populations.

    As environmental public health practioners the principals of environmental justice should inform every one of our phone calls, e-mails and interactions with the public. It is however the nature of bias that there will be people that struggle with this responsibility. One recommendation in such cases might be for the individual to seek a position in another sector.

    joe

    [email protected]

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