Lila Rose and James O’Keefe: When is it OK to lie?

Lila RoseJames O'Keefe

I have thought about how to write this for some time now and I admit that I still find myself in an ethical quandary. Here is some background.

James O’Keefe is the person who did undercover videos that exposed the group ACORN, showing that some ACORN employees had broken laws, ultimately leading to the end of the entire organization. I have argued this with a few friends of mine and my argument rests on the basic premise that by using a hidden camera and claiming he is someone he is not while claiming he wished to procure a service he didn’t really wish to procure, O’Keefe was, basically, lying. Legally, he was committing fraud. If he were a law enforcement officer, he would be guilty of entrapment. But, most simply, what he was doing was a blatant violation of the Eighth Commandment.

You shall not bear false witness against your
neighbor.

You may be less familiar with Lila Rose. She is the leader of a group named Live Action. Before I go on, there is one thing to clarify: Lila Rose is very clearly and very publicly a Catholic Christian. I cannot speak at all to if James O’Keefe is a Christian. Lila and her group have went to locations of Planned Parenthood and, using hidden video cameras, posed as people they are not and asked for services they didn’t actually want. This has led to quite a few problems for Planned Parenthood, including videos of their employees offering to break the law and cover up instances of sexual abuse of teenage girls. All of these videos have been the main impetus behind the current effort to de-fund Planned Parenthood. There is no dispute that Lila and her organization, like James O’Keefe, have lied in these Planned Parenthood exposès. Fraud. Entrapment. Lies. There is no question that these are lies, and violations of the Eighth Commandment, either. In both cases, there is a misrepresentation of the truth in a relation with another person, and the intent was to deceive. The Church does not let anyone off the hook in its teachings here.

I don’t want to be a hypocrite. I want to be morally and intellectually consistent. I have tried to explain away my discomfort with an argument from ends. O’Keefe was lying to further a partisan political goal, Rose is lying to save innocent lives. Their means may be the same, but their ends are far different. I am not entirely convinced that there isn’t some merit to that distinction and we have long accepted lies to save; the priests who forged birth certificates during World War II in order to save Jews, police undercover actions and spying are all examples of how we condone lying by not only our government but even our clergy in order to save the innocent. But would I tolerate Lila Rose’s lies if Planned Parenthood didn’t do abortions, but still provided birth control, something that is still intrinsically evil but not at the level of abortion?

So the disappointing finale of this post is that I still haven’t decided, for sure, what I think. I think I am still forming my conscience on this one, and even great thinkers within the Church today are split on this issue. So, in that case, I guess it’s OK that I can’t decide.

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2 responses to “Lila Rose and James O’Keefe: When is it OK to lie?

  1. I can’t believe you struggle with this one. I think I’ll pull an argument you previously used, I’ll call it Megan Argument #1.

    Megan Argument #1: The commandment says not to bear false witness against your neighbor. The Catholic person in question doesn’t live near the Planned Parenthood offices. He is therefore not the person’s neighbor. Problem solved!

    Anyway, that is tough. We see deceit used in the bible to accomplish God’s will in things. I’m currently rereading the Apocrypha, or the dc books, and in Judith, she blatantly lies about everything to the enemy in order to assassinate him and free her people from their attackers, and claims to be doing so according to God’s will, and is praised for it. Ehud in Judges did the same, though, in Judges it is made clear that the people were largely acting on their own at times too. David deceived the Philistine king he was serving while running from Saul, though the bible doesn’t state God’s thoughts on the matter. Also, David and Jonathon also deceive Saul to determine if Saul was still angry with David.

    I don’t think there is a positive example of deceit in the New Testament.

  2. Should Rahab have lied to save the Israelites in her home? Should David have taken the Passover bread to feed his hungry troops. The Bible commends them both for their faith in the NT, though I’m not sure if it comments on whether actually action is right or not. I wouldn’t go so far to say that the end justifies the means either.

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