The Myth of Fingerprints

A principle's a principle. But a job's a job.

BY: Joseph Telushkin


Dear Joseph,

I teach high school math in Maine. Last year, our state enacted a law requiring fingerprinting of all teachers as a condition of certification. I was quite outspoken against the law, believing that for teachers currently employed it goes against the idea that one is innocent until proven guilty, and that it violates the constitutional protection against unreasonable search and seizure.

I shared my feelings with my classes, and my students were worried that when I came up for re-certification, I would become one of the "refusers"--teachers that choose not to get fingerprinted and hence could not be re-certified.

Well, I submitted to the fingerprinting last week, and now feel like a hypocrite. My reasons were that I love teaching and my current job, and that moving from the state was out of the question. I am still quite upset by the law, and am having a hard time resolving whether my opposition to it is made less legitimate by complying with it. Can you help me?

-- An Almost Refuser

Dear Almost Refuser,

Continue to oppose the law, and don't feel you're a hypocrite. A sense of proportion dictates that one does not have to make tremendous sacrifices on behalf of every position one takes. You are not, after all, being asked to support a Nazi, Communist or racist regime. Rather, you believe it wrong for the state to require the fingerprinting of teachers.

I also disagree with your reasoning that such a procedure goes against the idea that one is innocent until proven guilty. If such was the case then it would mean, for example, that anytime a murder is committed and the police asked everyone in the house where the crime occurred to submit to fingerprinting, the presumption is being made that they are guilty. In your case, the police and government are seeking a technique that will help them capture guilty people and exonerate innocent ones.

I do understand, even if I don't agree with, those who find this law overly intrusive. But I hardly see it as a matter of such moral seriousness that it requires you to destroy your professional career. Unless you intend to commit serious crimes (while not wearing gloves), I would continue to teach, and continue to express your opposition to this law.

comments powered by Disqus