Rutland Institute for Ethics

The Robert J. Rutland Institute for Ethics announces...

The 14th Annual

J.T. Barton Jr. Ethics Essay Scholarship Competition


Your essay should address the question
associated with one of the five cases:

Rape and Parental Rights


What rights and responsibilities does the father of a child conceived through rape have regarding the child?

In 2011, Jamie Melendez, 20, pleaded guilty to raping a 14-year-old girl, who became pregnant as a result of the rape.  He was sentenced by a Massachusetts court to 16 years probation.. As part of the conditions of his probation, the court ordered Melendez to pay weekly child support until the child reaches the age of 18. Melendez offered to relinquish state-allowed visitation rights if the requirement for child support was dropped. The mother asked the court to require Melendez to pay criminal restitution in lieu of child support so she would not be forced into having contact with her rapist for 16 years. The judge ruled against her request.

According the Centers for Disease Control, 18.3% of U.S. women report that they have been raped at some time in their life. Each year about 1.3 million women are raped in the U. S., with approximately 32,000 of these rapes resulting in pregnancy. In a Chicago Tribune article (4 September 2013), Chicago attorney and activist Shauna Prewitt noted that approximately 30% of women who conceive a baby through rape choose to raise the child. At the time of the Chicago Tribune article, thirty-one states allowed fathers of children conceived during rape the same custody and visitation rights as other fathers.

Pennsylvania law, for example, allows a woman either to retain sole custody rights and deny visitation to the rapist who fathered her child, or to seek child support from him. She cannot do both. Ohio law requires a woman to obtain permission from her rapist to place a child, conceived by rape, up for adoption.



Under what conditions, if any, would it be ethically acceptable to commercially slaughter horses in the United States of America?

The cost of maintaining a horse that is no longer useful (i.e., one that is lame, old, or otherwise unsuitable) is high—so high that some consider it prohibitive. According to a report from the Animal Welfare Council (2006), the cost of taking care of such a horse is $2,340 per year. The animal could be expected to live another eleven years after its productive life, resulting in a cost that could exceed $25,000. The Unwanted Horse Coalition estimated in 2007 that there were 170,000 unwanted horses in the U.S. Options for disposing of a horse include letting it die of starvation and neglect, euthanizing it, or sending it to an equine slaughterhouse. Starvation, as a form of cruelty, is prohibited by law, but becomes the default solution when owners are unable to care for the animals. Euthanizing and burying a horse is significantly more complex and expensive than disposing of smaller animals. There are currently no domestic equine slaughterhouses. Reliance on foreign slaughterhouses exposes the horses to stressful shipping and to conditions uncontrolled by U.S. laws regarding humane treatment of animals.

Until recently, there were three equine slaughterhouses in the United States, two in Texas and one in Illinois, but all three are now closed. According to a story by Forbes (January 2012), the mayor of Kaufman, Texas, had waged a twenty-year campaign to get the local horse slaughterhouse shut down. The company, Dallas Crown, had allegedly caused the local citizens enormous problems. It had installed a pump to force horse blood through the town's sewer system, but the pressure of the pump burst some pipes and sent the blood into citizens' bathtubs and bubbling up onto the streets. The company grounds contained open piles of offal, which attracted vultures and flies and gave off a stench that permeated local businesses and homes.

Outside the United States, when horses are slaughtered, they mostly are destined for human consumption. According to a 2008 report from the Alberta Equine Welfare Group, over one billion people in the world eat horsemeat. In 2005, China was by far the largest consumer, (421,620 metric tonnes). Other major consumers were Mexico (84.17 t), Italy (63.29 t), France (24.54 t), Australia (19.12 t), and Japan (15.84 t). In Britain and America, however, where horses are thought of more as pets, there is a strong social stigma against eating horses.

In countries where horsemeat is consumed, it is served in much the same way as beef: as steaks, sausages, smoked and sliced for sandwiches, and so forth. Basashi is a form of Japanese sashimi: thin slices of raw horsemeat. Equine meat has somewhat higher nutritional value for humans than beef.

Shot in the Dark


What limits, if any, should there be on people’s rights to defend themselves, loved ones, or their property?

Joshua Moore, 64, and his wife, Carol, ran a fruit stand from the back of their truck every Saturday for 25 years in Rocky Mount, North Carolina. One Saturday morning in July 2006, 16-year-old Manny Harris, in a robbery attempt, struggled with Carol Moore. Joshua Moore shouted for Harris to back off. Harris backed off momentarily, but returned again more aggressively. Mr. Moore, who did not know whether Harris had a weapon, fatally shot him. Joshua Moore was charged with second-degree murder. Although North Carolina law recognized self-defense as a natural right, the trial judge instructed the jurors not to consider self defense or defense of a family member in their deliberations, and to return a verdict of first-degree murder, second-degree murder, or voluntary manslaughter. Moore was convicted of voluntary manslaughter. Moore spent several years and thousands of dollars defending himself in the courts. In 2012, the North Carolina Supreme Court overturned his conviction, finding that the trial court should have instructed jurors to consider in their deliberations, as Mr. Moore’s attorney had requested, that he was defending his wife.

Proponents of self-defense laws, such as the Castle Doctrine and Stand Your Ground statutes, believe that Joshua Moore was unjustly prosecuted. As of July 2013, half of all U.S. states had a Castle Doctrine statute, which allows the use of deadly force in selfdefense or to protect one’s property or prevent home invasion. A fundamental principle of the Castle Doctrine is exemption of the home dweller from the duty to retreat. Duty to retreat requires persons threatened with harm to avoid using lethal force by removing themselves, if possible, from the threat. Another nineteen states have a Stand Your Ground statute, which goes beyond the Castle Doctrine. Stand Your Ground statutes protect the right to use deadly force in the face of a reasonable belief of threat to person or property, without an obligation to retreat from danger. Stand Your Ground statutes extend the right to use deadly force to any place a person has a legal right to be, not just the home.

Besides protecting innocent people who use deadly force in self-defense from physical harm, proponents point out that Castle Doctrine and Stand Your Ground statutes offer protection from litigation by assailants, or their survivors, who may sue for restitution.

Opponents of Castle Doctrine and Stand Your Ground statutes assert that such laws allow killers to go unpunished. The perception of threat can be subjective, and it is nearly impossible to determine if threatening actions were provoked or situations manipulated to create an opportunity to use deadly force under the guise of self-defense.

Markus Kaarma and his wife, Janelle Pflager, had been burglarized twice in a three-week period in Spring 2014, shortly after moving from Washington state to Missoula, Montana. Thieves took several items, including cell phones and credit cards. Frustrated that police were unable to catch the burglars, and fearful for the safety of their ten-monthold baby, Kaarma and Pflager set a trap to catch the thieves. They mounted a surveillance camera in their garage, and installed motion detectors outside. On the evening of 26 April 2014, Pflager placed a purse far inside the garage and the couple left the garage door open. Shortly after midnight, motion detectors alerted the homeowners that someone was approaching, and the surveillance camera showed a stranger rummaging in the garage. Diren Dede, 17, was “garage-hopping,” a trend among Missoula teenagers who enter garages to steal small items, often alcohol. While Pflager recorded pictures from the surveillance camera and called 911, Kaarma picked up a shotgun, went out the front door, and shot four blasts into the dark garage. When Pflager turned on the lights and saw that Dede was wounded, she and Kaarma tried to administer life-saving procedures until help arrived. Dede died later that morning, and Kaarma was charged with deliberate homicide. Kaarma’s attorney said that his client, fearful of danger to his family, was justified in using deadly force under Montana’s Castle Doctrine.



From a moral point of view, was the sentence that Ethan Couch received appropriate?

Ethan Couch, a 16-year-old Texan, crashed his pickup truck into a group of people while driving with a blood alcohol level three times the legal limit. He killed four people near a disabled car by the road and seriously injured two of seven youths riding in his truck. Judge Jean Boyd sentenced Couch to a lockdown rehabilitation facility and ten years probation. He will face a ten-year jail sentence if he drinks alcohol, uses drugs, or drives while on probation.

The media fanned international controversy by picking up on defense expert testimony given by a psychologist. The psychologist claimed that Couch was the victim of “affluenza,” that he was incapable of good judgment due to lack of limits set by his wealthy parents. Observers, victims, and the victims’ families were appalled that Couch received such a light sentence. They claimed that the judge was influenced by the affluenza defense and allowed a spoiled rich kid’s parents to buy him a pass on real punishment.

Texas courts are guided by research indicating that rehabilitation is more productive than punishment in dealing with minors who commit “unintentional” crimes. The judge’s ruling is consistent with other Texas rulings. Critics of the Judge Boyd’s sentencing wonder if a stricter punishment would better fit the severity of crime.

Ethan’s family settled a civil suit by one teen who was paralyzed by the crash who will require lifelong round-the-clock care. Families of the other dead and injured victims have also filed civil suits for damages. In an interesting twist, Couches parents had volunteered to pay for a $450,000-a-year treatment facility in California, but Couch was directed to a state facility in Texas. There the charges are $260,000 a year but state tax subsidy will pay 95% of that fee leaving the parents to pay $14,040.



What accommodations, if any, should be made for transgender students? 

One of the greatest problems facing transgendered students is safe access to restrooms and locker rooms. They are often harassed or threatened, whether they use the women’s or the men’s restroom, and consequently feel unsafe in either facility.

Schools are struggling with assuring the safety and rights of transgendered students. For example, Alex Wilson self-identified as a girl when she was 12. For the last five years, since she turned 21, she has been living as a woman. As a nursing student at Florida’s Pinellas Technical Education Center, Alex had been using the women’s restroom without incident until August 2013, when a fellow student complained to administrators. The administration threatened Wilson with arrest if she continued to use the women’s restroom. She was given two other options: use either a storage closet across campus or the men’s restroom.

On 1 January 2014, California’s School Success and Opportunity Act (AB1266) became law. Although previous legislation prohibited discrimination, transgendered students still ended up being excluded from participating in sports, physical education classes, athletics, and other school activities, and access to restrooms and locker rooms of consistent with their gender identity. The law was necessary because some students and parents worried about children being assaulted in the locker room, administrators feared lawsuits if they allowed students with the genitalia of one sex to use the restrooms assigned to the opposite sex, and some students felt uncomfortable sharing locker rooms and restrooms with transgendered students.

With the enactment of AB1266, California became the first U.S. state to pass legislation ensuring transgendered students the same opportunity as all other students to participate in all school activities and programs. AB 1266 requires schools to allow transgendered students to use all facilities (including restrooms and locker rooms) that match their gender identity, rather than their sexual identity.

(f) A pupil shall be permitted to participate in sex-segregated school programs and activities, including athletic teams and competitions, and use facilities consistent with his or her gender identity, irrespective of the gender listed on the pupil’s records (AB1266, Section 221.5).

In contrast, Utah's proposed House Bill 87 would require students either to use only the restroom that corresponds to their sexual identity (documented by birth certificate or doctor’s examination) rather than their gender identity, or to use a separate restroom set aside for transgendered students that must be provided at the student’s request.

Supporters of equal protection and rights for transgendered students applaud laws that remove barriers preventing transgendered students from full access to the same educational and extracurricular opportunities that other students enjoy. They point out that the discomfort of seeing people not of the designated sex in a bathroom or locker room does not justify discrimination.

Opponents to legislation allowing transgendered students to choose which restroom and locker room to use, and which sex-segregated team to join, express concern that such a law provides sex offenders an opportunity to infiltrate locker rooms they normally would not be able to access. Some opponents claim that the intent of such legislation is to use schools as a means to encourage alternative sexual lifestyles. Conservative faith-based groups argue that laws protecting or promoting the rights of transgendered individuals is incompatible with their religious beliefs. For example, Genesis 1:27 is often quoted to justify the position that anything other than adherence to the strict male-female dichotomy is immoral: “So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.”.

Instructions are available here:


Your essay should address the question associated with one of the five cases:

“Rape and Parental Rights”
“A Shot in the Dark”

Be sure to indicate clearly which case and question you have selected.

The cases were prepared for the 21st Intercollegiate Ethics Bowl. They are used with the kind permission of the Association for Practical and Professional Ethics, which holds the copyright on them.


Since you’re writing on an ethical question, your essay should concentrate on what should be done ethically rather than what is typical, practical, or consistent with a particular set of religious beliefs.

Ethical reasoning focuses on things like consequences, fairness, and rights. Your essay should address topics like the potential personal and societal effects (or consequences) involved, what would be fair, whether or not people’s rights are being violated.

Keep in mind that there is no one definitive answer to the question. The success of your essay depends on how effectively you state your reasons for the position you take.


Start by identifying the most significant points to be addressed.

Read a variety of opinions on the subject to get an idea of the strengths and weaknesses of the various points of view.

Construct your own argument based upon the information you find most central, significant, and compelling.

Test your argument by discussing the question with people who disagree with you.

Revise several times, getting feedback after each new draft.

Utilize credible sources and cite all sources using an appropriate citation format (MLA, APA, or Chicago) in accordance with the university’s undergraduate academic integrity policy: Academic Integrity Policy Undergraduate Studies


Essays must be typed (double-spaced) using a twelve-point font. The title page should include the author’s name and contact information, but the text of the paper should be suitable for blind review. Essays must not exceed 1,500 words (a word count should be included on the title page; references and citations should not be included in the word count).

Essays should be submitted in electronic form as an attachment to email, which should be sent to this address: . Early submissions are welcome.


The deadline for submissions is 4:30 p.m. Monday April 13, 2015.

Winners will be notified by Friday April 24, 2015.




The Rutland Institute for Ethics  is committed to

Clemson University’s Academic integrity policies:

Undergraduate Policy

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