“Return With Honor” A Review

Review – Return With Honor: A Missionary Homecoming

By Ken K. Gourdin 

Dutcher may have set the standard, but this contribution to Mormon cinema and to Mormon missionary sagas isn’t without its redeeming qualities. 

I recently re-watched another drama about Mormon missionary life (this one dealing with its aftermath), the movie Return With Honor: A Missionary Homecoming, whose protagonist (Rowe McDonald, played by Javen Tanner) attempts to navigate his readjustment to “civilian” life while simultaneously dealing with a complicated family life.  Whatever critics in print media and among moviegoers may have thought of the movie, I’m not alone in my affection for it: according to IMDB.com, it won the Best Actor award (Javen Tanner) and the Founder’s Award for Best Feature Film (Michael Amundson) at the 2007 New York Independent Film and Video Festival, as well as the Gold Award at 2007 Worldfest Houston. 

It has its weaknesses.  In some spots, it makes certain points with ham-fisted dialogue when such a heavy touch is neither necessary nor in keeping with the subtleties employed in the rest of the movie.  It also falls prey to certain Mormon stereotypes, such as the girlfriend who faithfully waits the whole two years for her missionary (Alley Benson, played by Joey Jalalian – to her credit, however, she makes every guy wish he were Rowe McDonald).  

The fact that Rowe and Alley pick up right where they left off after Rowe has just spent two years in a situation where coming within a fifty-foot radius of a member of the opposite sex without direct, explicit, prior written permission from the mission president (which has, in turn, been duly notarized by an angel) is forbidden strains credulity, in my book, but what do I know?  I’ve been home from my mission nearly a quarter-century, and women still haven’t gotten the memo: it’s as though they’re not only content, but downright bound and determined to ignore me.  (Maybe I’m simply jealous of Rowe; after all, Alley isn’t bad looking – to say the least!) 

The viewer wants to like the main character.  This desire to like the protagonist is particularly strong, given the fact that an encounter with the Divine following a serious traffic accident shortly before Elder McDonald returns home from his mission in Las Vegas leaves the viewer with the impression that his time remaining in mortality is limited.  To be honest, however, my desire to like Elder (Emeritus!) McDonald notwithstanding, I found myself telling him, vociferously and at regular intervals, to “Quit being such a self-righteous, judgmental little prick!”  (Please pardon my French; I also found myself hoping that any non-Mormon who might see the film wouldn’t be left with the misconception that all [or most] Mormons are so “holier-than-thou.”)  

One of the movie’s strengths, however, is the presence of genuine conflict which it does not attempt to sugarcoat, and Rowe’s failure to “get it” – to recognize what’s most important and what he has been missing in his approach to his relationships with others (especially his mother) – is one of the main sources of that conflict.  In an interesting twist, Rowe’s rebellious, non-church-going, missionary-service-spurning, punk-rocker, bald, tattooed best friend, Corbin (played by Raymond Zeiters) is the one who holds up the mirror that finally enables Rowe to see the role he has been playing in fomenting that conflict. 

The urge to soft-peddle conflict is a weakness to which the creators of various Mormon-themed books, movies, and other media too often fall prey.  Mormons experience the same hardships – conflict with family, friends, and others, financial reversals, job losses, health challenges, sadness and sorrow, and so on – that everyone else does.  The point of the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ is not to spare us of any of that: in Mormon parlance, “It must needs be, that there must needs be opposition in all things” (see 2 Nephi 2:11 in The Book of Mormon).  Rather, the Gospel aims to give us the tools to better deal with these things, since they are the common lot of humanity. 

Notwithstanding the short time McDonald has been home, Alley wastes no time trying to turn his attention to the next step in the stereotypical storybook progression of Mormon life – marriage.  Alley’s focus on the future, however, is complicated by the conflict created by the fact that Rowe, conversely, believes that planning for a future he will never see is pointless, while his obsessive goal orientation (newly directed toward converting his non-Mormon mother, Trish, played by Tayva Patch) in the brief time he believes he has left strains the already-challenging relationship he has with her, as well. 

Rowe’s laser-focus on goals is illustrated by a conversation he has with his mission president shortly before he returns home.  Asked what he thought the secret to his success as a missionary is, Elder McDonald doesn’t mention his love for the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ (or his love for Jesus Christ, himself, for that matter), or his love for the people he has been teaching.  Rather, he says, the secret to his success was minimizing the valuable time he had as a missionary attempting to teach someone who isn’t ready to accept the message.  Alas, perhaps his next intended convert is the least ready to do that of all.

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Taking the Long View

Taking The Long-View Perspective on an Often-Frustrating, Often-Disappointing Mortal “Second Act” 

By Ken K. Gourdin 

I was deeply touched by this video (link last accessed July 11, 2014), and it sparked the reflections below: 


There are three states of which we ought to remain aware so as to not lose our perspective in this Second Act: there is what was; we are not the product of accidental chance.  As fascinating as our anatomy and biology are, spiritually speaking, we came from somewhere, where a First Act took place.  Our being – our essence – is more than a mere collection of cells, or the mere result of biological materials and processes.  As Wordsworth put it, “Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting: The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star, Hath had elsewhere its setting, And cometh from afar: Not in entire forgetfulness, And not in utter nakedness, But trailing clouds of glory do we come From God, who is our home[.]”1 

This is our Second Act.  We are not mere mortal beings placed on earth simply to have occasional spiritual experiences; rather, we are essentially spiritual beings placed on earth to have a mortal experience.  But there’s no escaping the truth: this mortal experience often is frustrating, disappointing, and unfulfilling.  In mortality, so many things conspire to thwart what otherwise might be – “In the world, ye shall have tribulation.”   The good news is that thwarted hopes and expectations of mortality need not be the end of the story – “[B]ut be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world.”2 

It’s interesting that we get a glimpse at the beginning and the end of the video, respectively, at the picture of the man and his wife in better (or at least in easier) times: the first is a glimpse of what was (perhaps-better, or at least easier, times past); and the second is a glimpse of what will be (a Third Act: better times to come, through Christ – “Be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world.”)  

And of course, we can tell in his face when this man looks at his wife, he doesn’t see his wife as she is, but rather as she was – and as she will be, again.  So he doesn’t “count the cost” of present difficulties: such a cost is a privilege to pay.  As it was and will be for this man and his wife, so it was and will be for us: if we endure well our too-often frustrating, too-often disappointing present, at length, we, too, will “overcome the world,” even with all of its frustrations and disappointments, and God “will exalt [us] on high, and [we shall] triumph over all [our] foes.”3 



William Wordsworth (1804) “Ode: Intimations of Immortality,” accessed on line at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ode:_Intimations_of_Immortality on July 13, 2014.


The Holy Bible (1611), King James Version, John 16:33, accessed on line at https://www.lds.org/scriptures/nt/john/16.33?lang=eng on July 13, 2014. 


(2013) The Doctrine and Covenants, Salt Lake City, Utah: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Section 121, Verse 8, accessed on line at the following address on  July 13, 2014. https://www.lds.org/scriptures/dc-testament/dc/121?lang=eng

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President Benson was a prophet of God

Ezra Taft Benson Was a Prophet of God: LDS, Women’s Issues, and Gay Marriage

By Ken K. Gourdin

I had the following thoughts about following the Living Prophets, gay marriage, and women’s issues in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.   Could a prophet ask me to do something I found uncomfortable, unsettling, or difficult (short of murder or suicide bombing)?  Sure.  My approach to verifying that that’s what God wants me to do, however, would not change: I’d still fast; I’d still pray; I’d still ponder; and once I received confirmation, I would go forward.  Would plural marriage be difficult?  Sure, but, as I always say, “Ya hafta monog before ya kin polyg!” :-D  The crucibles of our time in the Church of Jesus Christ, however (as can plainly be seen by the currency of these issues in the media and the Church’s response to them), are same-sex marriage and women’s issues/women and the Priesthood.  I don’t really have “a dog in either of those fights,” so it’s relatively easy for me to say, “Choose ye this day whom ye will serve.  But as for me and my house, we will follow the Living Prophets, and we will serve the Living God” (see Joshua 24:15).

I think there is danger in second-guessing the path the Living Prophets have laid out.  It’s one thing to say, “I believe the Restored Gospel is true and that we are led by Living Prophets today.  However …” And it’s another thing entirely to say, “I believe the Restored Gospel is true and that we are led by Living Prophets today.  Therefore …”  As long as government is in the marriage business (whether it should be or not), is there a legally defensible rationale for limiting marriage to only opposite-sex couples?  Maybe not.  (I see some merit in that argument, however I may feel about it personally.)  But I don’t think the Living Prophets can afford to say, “Well, is it legal?  Great!  As long as it’s legal, anything goes.”  Elder Dallin H. Oaks has made clear that Church leaders simply cannot stick their moistened fingers up to find out which way the legal winds are blowing and act accordingly. I believe that, with the Proclamation on the Family, “The Fifteen” at the time felt the same.

The Brethren have consistently taught that marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God and that sex outside of marriage is wrong.  While I can see how someone who favors gay marriage (and who hopes that one day, the Church of Jesus Christ will sanction and solemnize gay marriages (or even gay sealings)) would appeal to the Priesthood ban and its lifting as support for that stance, there is one problem with it: there was always a contingent of the Brethren who stated that the ban would be lifted one day; not so with the Church’s “ban” on gay marriages/sealings.  Ditto for women and the Priesthood: there has never been a contingent of the Brethren who have taught that the “ban” of women from the Priesthood one day will be lifted.

Some people say, “Gosh, it’s really a black mark on the history of a Church that claims to be led by continuing revelation that it was so far behind the curve with respect to Civil Rights.”  I don’t agree with that assessment: maybe it’s right; maybe it’s wrong.  But this much is certain: the Church’s history with regard to blacks and the Priesthood does provide a template for resisting change that the Lord wants nothing to do with (unless and until He says otherwise).  Why was the ban lifted?  Because God said it should be. Why wasn’t it lifted before then?  Because, as I understand it, God told President McKay (who was perfectly willing to lift the ban), “Not yet, and don’t ask again.”

So let’s consider three issues: (1) Blacks and the Priesthood; (2) Women’s ordination; and (3) Gay marriage:

  1. Have people agitated for the Church to change its stance on all of these issues?  Check!
  2. Has such agitation focused less on a “top-down” impetus for such change and more on a “bottom-up” impetus for it? Check!
  3. Disregarding the fact that none of the Brethren have ever said that a change allowing for women’s ordination or for Church-sanctioned gay marriages/sealings could be expected at some future time (as some Brethren did with respect to ordaining blacks), have people used the latter case as evidence that the former two proposed changes possibly could occur? Check!

As I’ve also said before, God doesn’t care whether we think He’s racist, sexist, homophobic, politically incorrect, or otherwise bigoted. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways. . . .  As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9).  While I’m not indicting anyone in particular here, Lehi’s vision of the rod, the path, the tree of life, and the great and spacious building also has currency (see 1 Nephi 8).  The more time passes, the fuller that building will get, and the louder the mocking will get.  And even some (perhaps many) members of the Church of Jesus Christ will forsake the rod, the path, and the fruit to gain acceptance among its inhabitants.  It’s not easy to be mocked by people with whom you would have fellowship as your brothers and sisters in the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Did we wonder to what he was referring when President Benson wrote his seminal address, Beware of Pride?  After all, back then, there was less divergence between the Church and the world, and much less disagreement (almost none, in fact) among the Saints regarding such issues as women’s ordination and gay marriage.  Well, now it’s much easier to see what he was writing about, isn’t it?  Some excerpts:

Pride is essentially competitive in nature. We pit our will against God’s. When we direct our pride toward God, it is in the spirit of “my will and not thine be done.” As Paul said, they “seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ’s (Phil. 2:21)  . . .

The proud stand more in fear of men’s judgment than of God’s judgment. (See D&C 3:6–7; D&C 30:1–2; D&C 60:2.) “What will men think of me?” weighs heavier than “What will God think of me?” . . .

Fear of men’s judgment manifests itself in competition for men’s approval. The proud love “the praise of men more than the praise of God.” (John 12:42–43.) . . . When pride has a hold on our hearts, we lose our independence of the world and deliver our freedoms to the bondage of men’s judgment. The world shouts louder than the whisperings of the Holy Ghost. The reasoning of men overrides the revelations of God, and the proud let go of the iron rod. (See 1 Ne. 8:19–28; 1 Ne. 11:25; 1 Ne. 15:23–24.)1

While he was not the Prophet at the time he delivered this address, the same can be said of several of President Benson’s Fourteen Fundamentals of Following the Prophet.  Particularly apropos of this discussion are his fundamentals seven, eight, and nine:

 . . . Seventh: The prophet tells us what we need to know, not always what we want to know.

“Thou has declared unto us hard things, more than we are able to bear,” complained Nephi’s brethren. But Nephi answered by saying, “The guilty taketh the truth to be hard, for it cutteth them to the very center.” (1 Ne. 16:1–2.)

Said President Harold B. Lee:

“You may not like what comes from the authority of the Church. It may conflict with your political views. It may contradict your social views. It may interfere with some of your social life … Your safety and ours depends upon whether or not we follow … Let’s keep our eye on the President of the Church.” (Conference Report, October 1970, p. 152–153.)

But it is the living prophet who really upsets the world. “Even in the Church,” said President Kimball, “many are prone to garnish the sepulchres of yesterday’s prophets and mentally stone the living ones.” (Instructor, 95:527.)

Why? Because the living prophet gets at what we need to know now, and the world prefers that prophets either be dead or worry about their own affairs. Some so-called experts of political science want the prophet to keep still on politics. Some would-be authorities on evolution want the prophet to keep still on evolution. And so the list goes on and on.

How we respond to the words of a living prophet when he tells us what we need to know, but would rather not hear, is a test of our faithfulness.

Said President Marion G. Romney, “It is an easy thing to believe in the dead prophets, but it is a greater thing to believe in the living prophets.” And then he gives this illustration:

“One day when President Grant was living, I sat in my office across the street following a general conference. A man came over to see me, an elderly man. He was very upset about what had been said in this conference by some of the Brethren, including myself. I could tell from his speech that he came from a foreign land. After I had quieted him enough so he would listen, I said, ‘Why did you come to America?’ ‘I am here because a prophet of God told me to come.’ ‘Who was the prophet?’ I continued. ‘Wilford Woodruff.’ ‘Do you believe Wilford Woodruff was a prophet of God?’ ‘Yes, sir.’

“Then came the sixty-four dollar question, ‘Do you believe that Heber J. Grant is a prophet of God?’ His answer, ‘I think he ought to keep his mouth shut about old-age assistance.’

“Now I tell you that a man in his position is on the way to apostasy. He is forfeiting his chances for eternal life. So is everyone who cannot follow the living prophet of God.” (Conference Report, April 1953, p. 125.)

Eighth: The Prophet is not limited by men’s reasoning.

There will be times when you will have to choose between the revelation of God and reasoning of men—between the prophet and the professor. Said the Prophet Joseph Smith, “Whatever God requires is right, no matter what it is, although we may not see the reason thereof until long after the events transpire.” (Scrapbook of Mormon Literature, vol. 2, p. 173).

Would it seem reasonable to an eye doctor to be told to heal a blind man by spitting in the dirt, making clay and applying it to the man’s eyes and then telling him to wash in a contaminated pool? Yet this is precisely the course that Jesus took with one man, and he was healed. (See John 9:6–7.) Does it seem reasonable to cure leprosy by telling a man to wash seven times in a particular river, yet this is precisely what the prophet Elisha told a leper to do, and he was healed. (See 2 Kgs. 5.)

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isa. 55:8–9.)

Ninth: The prophet can receive revelation on any matter—temporal or spiritual.

Said Brigham Young:

“Some of the leading men in Kirtland were much opposed to Joseph the Prophet, meddling with temporal affairs …

“In a public meeting of the Saints, I said, ‘Ye Elders of Israel, … will some of you draw the line of demarcation, between the spiritual and temporal in the kingdom of God, so that I may understand it?’ Not one of them could do it …

“I defy any man on earth to point out the path a Prophet of God should walk in, or point out his duty, and just how far he must go, in dictating temporal or spiritual things. Temporal and spiritual things are inseparably connected, and ever will be.” (Journal of Discourses, 10:363–64.)2


 1. President Ezra Taft Benson (April 1989) “Beware of Pride,” Ensign, accessed on line at the following address on July 7, 2014: https://www.lds.org/general-conference/1989/04/beware-of-pride?lang=eng.
 2. President Ezra Taft Benson (June 1981) “Fourteen Fundamentals in Following the Prophet,” Ensign, accessed on line at the following address on July 7, 2014: https://www.lds.org/liahona/1981/06/fourteen-fundamentals-in-following-the-prophet?lang=eng.
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Officer criticized for shooting dog

“Geist” shooting should be kept in perspective

By Ken K. Gourdin

Note: A substantially-similar piece was submitted to, but declined for publication by, The Salt Lake Tribune.


There has been no shortage of opinion, much of it critical, in on-line comments about Salt Lake Police Officer Brett Olsen’s recent shooting of Sean Kendall’s dog, Geist, as Olsen sought a missing child.  [See, e.g., here (last accessed today): http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/news/58109655-78/police-kendall-dog-lake.html.csp.] Tribune columnist (and former police officer) Robert Kirby’s column discussing similar experiences with dogs during his career (Tribune, June 28) has also been criticized.  [Kirby’s column can be found here (last accessed today): http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/home3/58124166-200/dog-killed-kirby-cop.html.csp.]

Many on-line commenters on Kirby’s column really like the Constitution – or at least, certain parts of it; others, they don’t like so much.  They are really fond, for example, of the Fourth Amendment: you know, the one that says that government searches and seizures must be reasonable.

Let’s put ourselves in Olsen’s shoes for a second.  (Many who’ve commented on this incident seem unwilling to do that.)  If we reasonably felt threatened by a dog, and if we, regretfully but reasonably, found it necessary to use the same force Olsen did, we’d really like the Second Amendment: you know, the one about keeping and bearing arms.

Alas, many commenters on coverage of this incident aren’t so fond of other parts of the Constitution.  It’s a good thing there’s a difference between a court of law and the court of public opinion, because in the latter, Olsen already has been arrested, charged, tried, convicted, sentenced, and executed (or at least, he would be if some had their way: he has received death threats).

The parts of the Constitution Olsen’s critics don’t like?  They’re not fond of the Fifth Amendment’s due process requirement.  We must either apply Fifth Amendment protection, as best we can, to everyone (yes, including even to police officers), or we must set it aside completely.

It’s as though Olsen’s critics say, “Rights, due process, and procedural protections for me, but not for thee – especially since thou art a police officer.”  Others have faulted police for allegedly slow-walking the investigation.  Yet, if they were the ones being investigated, they would demand that officials spare no effort to get it right.

Officers seem “damned if they do, and damned if they don’t.”  Salt Lake police were criticized for failing to find Destiny Norton before her terribly unfortunate demise.  Had action such that which Olsen took been necessary to find Norton alive, critics, recognizing that no the life of no pet (however beloved) is worth a child’s life, would have demanded that officers take it.

And there are exceptions to the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement, such as exigent (emergency) circumstances.  Sadly, as Norton’s case proves, time is of the essence when a child goes missing: the more time passes after an abduction, the greater the likelihood that the child will not be found alive.

Granting for the sake of discussion that it was necessary for Olsen to take some action against the dog, others have asked why he didn’t use nondeadly force, such as a Taser.  Further illustrating officers’ impossible position, however, critics may well have called such action torture.

Other critics didn’t like Kirby’s other examples of instances where people legitimately might be on our premises (however unlikely the prospect).  For example, some didn’t like his meter reader example: they must live “off the grid.”  And if they were not to receive their mail or their newspaper, no doubt, they would protest loudly.

Yes, the loss of a pet under any circumstances is tragic (more so under these circumstances).  But it’s important to keep perspective: no pet is worth a human life, and no pet’s death justifies mistreating our fellow human beings.

Ken K. Gourdin, Tooele, is a certified paralegal.

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20 Independence Day Favorites

Just 20 of My Favorite Things About U.S. Independence Day

 By Ken K. Gourdin

This was going to be my sole – or at least my primary – post about Independence Day this year; that is, until I started writing my “Proud to be an American” post and I ended up with two different strands of thought that I figured would work best if each were its own post.  I’m glad that inspiration hit, because as much as I appreciate the things on this list, I wanted to write about more than just superficial things on such an important day.  Anyway, here is my list of “Just 20” of My Favorite Things About U.S. Independence Day.  In no particular order, they are:


 1. Cheerleaders, pep girls, and beauty queens
 2. Marching bands
 3. Vintage cars
 4. Horses
 5. Floats
 6. Old Glory’s ubiquitousness
 7. Men and women in uniform – the older, the better
 8. Unabashed expressions of patriotism
 9. Fireworks
 10. Rodeo
 11. Pondering freedom
 12. Honoring the Founding Fathers
 13. Patriotic music
 14. Quotes from the Founding Fathers and other great leaders
 15. Pondering the sacrifices of those who serve my country and community
 16. Being with family and friends
 17. Thanking God for my many blessings – freedom, to be sure, but many more
 18. Recording my thoughts about freedom and what makes it possible
 19. The combination of Numbers 9 and 12
 20. When the rodeo emcee asks all of those who’ve served to stand


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Proud To Be An American Part 2

Proud As An American, Part II: Another Reason I’m Proud to Be An American is That Everyone Has Equality Before The Law

By Ken K. Gourdin

In a previous Blog entry, I wrote that I’m proud to be an American because so many have been willing to sacrifice for the freedoms I enjoy.  Another reason I’m proud to be an American is that what rights you have here aren’t dependent on who you are.  I’m glad that all of us, regardless of what we’ve done or what our station in life is, are equal before the law.  In an Op-Ed, I wrote:

Former Utah Supreme Court Justice, University of Chicago law professor, and U.S. Supreme Court law clerk Dallin H. Oaks, said a [key] . . . reason for the Constitution’s success is its commitment to popular sovereignty.

In the Gettysburg Address, President Abraham Lincoln also extolled the virtue of popular sovereignty.  Even in the midst of the divisive Civil War, Lincoln proclaimed that “government of the people, by the people, and for the people shall not perish from the earth.”

Equality of men before the law is reinforced by another fundamental principle Oaks cites: the notion that we have a government, not of men but of laws.  It doesn’t matter who we are or what our station in life is.  We are all accountable to (and protected by) the law.1

As a polis, we feel so strongly about equality before the law (no matter who one is or what he might have done – or have been accused of doing) that the system we have set up does much more than simply pay lip service to the old adage that it’s better that a hundred guilty men go free than that one innocent man be convicted.  In that vein, I have written:

In criminal law, the exclusionary rule says, generally, that illegally-obtained evidence cannot be used against someone in a criminal prosecution, even if that evidence is relevant and material.  The ethics of my profession indicate that I must zealously defend my client no matter how I feel about him or about the crime with which he is charged.  If I fail to do so I have breached the ethics of my profession, and my (former) client may appeal any conviction on the basis of ineffective assistance of counsel.  If I believe there is good evidence that my client is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, may I, in good conscience, still defend him?  May I seek to have illegally-obtained evidence, which likely would convict my client if a trier of fact (a judge or a jury) were to consider that evidence, suppressed on the basis that the evidence was illegally obtained, even if my efforts likely would result in his acquittal?  I believe the answer to all of these questions is, “Yes.” . . .

How does anyone sleep at night knowing that he defended (perhaps successfully) someone who actually was guilty by exploiting one or more “loopholes” in the law, such as the exclusionary rule?  The simple answer (provided he acted ethically in doing so) is, because the Constitution and the law say he can.  That is not to say that anything that is legal also is right, but a lawyer’s first duty, provided no other ethical considerations rightfully intrude, is to his client, and his next duty is to the ethics of his profession—even if those ethics produce what some might consider an undesirable result.2

In a subsequent post illustrated the importance of the foregoing principle by using a hypothetical example:

Consider the following hypothetical. (Having sat through several years of hypotheticals in law school, I have been waiting with ‘bated breath, on the edge of my seat, for years, to inflict a hypothetical upon someone else, and now’s my chance!)  My client is an S.O.B.  Everybody in the community hates him.  The crime with which he has been charged sounds just like something he would do, and everybody in the community knows it.  Does my client have the right to expect that I will represent him as zealously as possible within the bounds of law and ethics?  Yes.  Does he have the right to expect that I will do anything that is not illegal or unethical to impeach any witnesses against him and otherwise to raise reasonable doubt in jurors’ minds?  Yes.  Does he have the right to expect that I will hold the prosecution responsible for proving every element of the crime with which he has been charged, and that I will do everything legally and ethically possible to ensure that the prosecution does so?  Yes.

You and I might never need many of the protections that the Constitution guarantees my client—the Fourth Amendment’s guarantee against unreasonable searches and seizures; the Fifth Amendment’s right to due process and protection against self-incrimination; the Sixth Amendment’s right to a trial by a jury of one’s peers; the Eighth Amendment’s protection against cruel and unusual punishment, and other provisions.  If we’re largely law abiding and if we’re never accused of a crime, we’ll never need any of these things.  But these provisions weren’t written for you and me: they were written for people such as my client.  He’s the one who needs them.  And he needs me, a judge, and possibly a jury to ensure that he gets the protection they’re intended to provide.3

Many people didn’t like the result after a Florida jury acquitted George Zimmerman of murder in the shooting Trayvon Martin.  Zimmerman’s case, however, is a good illustration of these principles.  Concerning it, I wrote:

While we might say we believe it’s better for a hundred guilty people to go free than for one innocent person to be convicted, too many of us want to have our cake and eat it, too: if a jury reaches a verdict with which we disagree, many of us blame the very system whose protection we would demand if we were falsely accused (or if we believe there is insufficient evidence to convict us).

Many then take to the streets in protest, chanting such slogans as, “No justice, no peace!”  What is justice?  It is what we say it is. What is peace?  Peace may be achieved by using the system to further whatever ends will keep us from rioting in the streets.

That sounds an awful lot like “rule of men” and not a whole lot like “rule of law” to me.  As much as I understand why those who don’t believe that a just result was achieved in the Zimmerman case are frustrated, that’s not a country in which I think most of us would want to live.4


 1. Ken K. Gourdin (September 17, 2013) “Key features ensured Constitution’s vitality,” Tooele Transcript-Bulletin A4.  See also Ken K. Gourdin (April 29, 2014) “Just laws are indispensable to a civilized society,” Tooele Transcript-Bulletin A4.
 2. Ken K. Gourdin (March 25, 2013) “The Ethics of Zealous Defense,” (Blog post), http://greatgourdini.wordpress.com/2013/03/25/the-ethics-of-zealous-defense/, last accessed July 4, 2014.
 3. Ken K. Gourdin (July 31, 2013) “Hypothetical S.O.B. Clients and The Constitution,” (Blog post), http://greatgourdini.wordpress.com/2013/07/31/ethics-of-zealous-defense-ii/, last accessed July 4, 2014.
 4. Ken K. Gourdin (July 30, 2014) “Zimmerman acquittal tests faith in U.S. legal system,” Tooele Transcript-Bulletin A4.
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Proud To Be An American Part 1

Proud, As An American: One Reason I’m Proud to Be an American is Because of Those Who Have Sacrificed (and Who Do Sacrifice) So Much for My Freedom

By Ken K. Gourdin

Tonight, my family and I will continue a proud tradition of going to the local rodeo that’s held every year to celebrate U.S. Independence Day.  I’m unabashedly sentimental on this day.  I might even get a little misty-eyed during a performance of The Star Spangled Banner or of Lee Greenwood’s Proud To Be An American, or when the emcee for the evening asks all those in the crowd who’ve served in the military to stand so they can be recognized.

I come from a proud tradition of military service, and at least four generations of my family have served in the military.  This includes a member of The Greatest Generation, who fought in World War II, and an ancestor who fought in the Revolutionary War.  I have been bequeathed a proud tradition of service both to country and to community.  Both my mother and my father served in government for many years, my mother as a deputy county clerk and my father as a police officer.

As the debate about whether U.S. troops should have stayed in Iraq have been rekindled by the emergence of the terrorist organization the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, I am reminded that there are rarely (if ever) any simple answers to such questions.  U.S. special operators are due enormous credit for their efforts which led to the killing of the evil Osama bin Laden, but I think it’s naïve at best and foolish at worst to presume that his demise ended the war on terror.  As I wrote elsewhere on the Blog (in a piece I originally submitted to The Salt Lake Tribune but which was declined for publication):

Our short individual and institutional memories stand in stark contrast to militant Islam’s mindset.  That mindset is captured neatly in an old Pakistani proverb: “If it takes me ten centuries to avenge my enemy, I will wait a thousand years for revenge.”  Bin Laden’s death does nothing to change that mindset.1

As sympathetic as I might be to isolationist arguments and to the pain of those who’ve lost loved ones in conflicts which the American public and its leaders no longer have any desire to prosecute, I am, nonetheless, honored and humbled by the fact that even today, there are those who are willing to go where their country calls them and to do what their country asks of them – regardless of their personal feelings.  Frankly, one of the problems I have with Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl is that by all appearances, he, apparently, did not do that.  I have written concerning him:

Even if one disagrees or becomes disillusioned about where he is told to go and what he is told to do, provided his orders do not violate widely-accepted norms for the conduct of military operations, he should honor his commitment, finish any pending assignments, and should honorably complete his enlistment before turning his attention to . . . becoming involved in public life.2

In apparent contrast to Bergdahl, millions of others have answered the call to serve.  I honor all who have done so with distinction, especially those who have paid what President Abraham Lincoln called “the last full measure of devotion.”  I wrote another Op-Ed in which I described my visit to the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.   There, too, I acknowledged the robust debate that takes place with respect to virtually any military operation undertaken by the United States; that acknowledgment, however, comes with a caveat.  I wrote, “At the Tomb, debates about the rightness or wrongness of any given conflict fade into insignificance.  What matters is that those who sacrificed so much were willing to answer the call of their country.  May we ever remember, and never forget.”3

1. Ken K. Gourdin (August 15, 2012), “The man is dead, but the idea of bin Laden lives on,” (Blog post), http://greatgourdini.wordpress.com/2012/08/15/bin-laden-lives/.  Last accessed July 4, 2014.  Originally submitted to (but declined for publication by) The Salt Lake Tribune.
 2. Ken K. Gourdin (March 3, 2014), “Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl: Hostage or Deserter?,” (Blog post),  https://greatgourdini.wordpress.com/2014/03/03/bowe-bergdahl/.  Last accessed July 4, 2014.
 3. Ken K. Gourdin (June 4, 2013), “Twenty-one steps: reflections on duty, honor, and privilege,” The Tooele Transcript-Bulletin A4.
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