Counsel on Kissing

By Wall, James M. | The Christian Century, October 23, 1996 | Go to article overview

Counsel on Kissing


Wall, James M., The Christian Century


THE KISS heard around the world revealed little about amour and a lot about our litigious society. When first-grader Johnathan Prevette of Lexington, North Carolina, planted a kiss on the cheek of a female classmate, he was forced to color alone in an empty classroom instead of attending the school's ice cream party. Johnathan's punishment and the charge that he was guilty of sexual harassment were issued by school administrators who were trying to adhere to the school's policy on harassment.

School officials might have spared themselves some ridicule had they listened to Paul's counsel in Galatians 6:1: "If a man should do something wrong, my brothers, on a sudden impulse, you who are endowed with the Spirit must set him right again very gently" (New English Bible). On the other hand, by following this admonition and dealing with the behavior gently, school administrators might have found themselves confronted by an irate parent accompanied by a trial lawyer ready to sue the school because it did not adhere to its stated policies.

Since Paul displays little sympathy for litigation--encouraging Christians to stay out of the courts and resolve disputes among themselves--it is safe to assume that he would not look with much favor on trial lawyers, especially now that our litigious society has given them so much political influence. According to Lester Brickman, a professor at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York, some of the more successful trial lawyers are winning tort cases that generate "literally billions of dollars in fees for lawyers to the point where they now effectively control certain political processes." In an effort to protect their litigation turf, writes Carolyn Lochhead in the Weekly Standard (September 23), trial lawyers are "bankrolling politicians at a level unmatched by any profession: $100.4 million in combined state and federal giving from 1990 through 1995." These contributions, which go mainly to Democrats, come largely from "a tiny core of extraordinarily rich plaintiffs' attorneys," who have become "the most powerful professional special-interest group in American politics."

Trial attorneys are especially organized in opposition to tort reform. A primary aim of such reform is to limit the amount of money that courts can require individuals or businesses to pay for negligence that leads to mental or physical harm. Trial attorneys may receive as much as 30 percent of the money obtained in wrongful injury cases, and of course they are not eager to see their fees reduced.

Limits on liability are favored by corporations and businesses--as well as by doctors, nontrial lawyers and school administrators--who complain that the need to fight litigation greatly increases business costs and forces them to defend against what are often frivolous suits.

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