Civil Rights » ADL Blogs
July 3, 2015 2

Yes, Justice Thomas, the Government Can Deprive People of Dignity

The word “dig­nity” appears 30 times in last week’s Supreme Court mar­riage equal­ity case, Oberge­fell v. Hodges. Describ­ing the same-sex cou­ples who aspired to marry, Jus­tice Anthony Kennedy, writ­ing for the 5–4 major­ity, stated:

Their hope is not to be con­demned to live in lone­li­ness, excluded from one of civilization’s old­est insti­tu­tions. They ask for equal dig­nity in the eyes of the law. The Con­sti­tu­tion grants them that right. supreme-court-civil-rights




In a bit­ter dis­sent, Jus­tice Clarence Thomas demurred, stat­ing that “the Con­sti­tu­tion con­tains no ‘dig­nity’ Clause.” He argued that the gov­ern­ment is “inca­pable of bestow­ing dig­nity,” stat­ing flatly that” human dig­nity can­not be taken away by the government.”

Aston­ish­ingly, Jus­tice Thomas then attempted to prove his dubi­ous propo­si­tion by cit­ing two extreme and rep­re­hen­si­ble gov­ern­ment actions that were actu­ally designed to deprive vic­tims of “equal dig­nity under the law” – slav­ery and the incar­cer­a­tion of Amer­i­cans of Japan­ese descent dur­ing World War II:

Slaves did not lose their dig­nity … because the gov­ern­ment allowed them to be enslaved. Those held in intern­ment camps did not lose their dig­nity because the gov­ern­ment con­fined them.

But the gov­ern­ment did not “allow” blacks to be enslaved – the laws of the time facil­i­tated and empow­ered slave own­ers and enforced slavery.

And the Japan­ese Amer­i­can Cit­i­zens League was rightly “appalled” by Jus­tice Thomas’ blind­ness to the impact of the government’s shame­ful and unwar­ranted forcible relo­ca­tion and incar­cer­a­tion of 120,000 Amer­i­cans of Japan­ese descent, the vast major­ity of whom were citizens.

In 1942, just 10 weeks after the sur­prise attack on Pearl Har­bor, Pres­i­dent Franklin D. Roo­sevelt issued his Exe­cu­tion Order 9066, pro­vid­ing the legal author­ity for this depri­va­tion of lib­erty and dig­nity. Roosevelt’s exec­u­tive action was issued against the back­drop of wide­spread, base­less fears that Amer­i­cans of Japan­ese ances­try might pose a threat to the U.S – anx­i­ety that was cer­tainly fed by a long his­tory of prej­u­dice and xeno­pho­bia direct against Japan­ese Americans.

Those incar­cer­ated in the camps were uprooted from their com­mu­ni­ties, sep­a­rated from their fam­i­lies, their homes, and their pos­ses­sions, and lost their per­sonal lib­er­ties and free­doms until the end of the war.

Trag­i­cally, the president’s exec­u­tive order was bol­stered by addi­tional con­gres­sional enact­ments. And when the con­sti­tu­tion­al­ity of these actions was chal­lenged in two main cases before the U.S. Supreme Court – Hirabayashi v. U.S. andKore­matsu v. United States – the Court held that these clearly dis­crim­i­na­tory actions by the gov­ern­ment were, in fact, jus­ti­fied and constitutional.

Now, 73 years later, the Anti-Defamation League uses the cruel and unwar­ranted wartime treat­ment of Amer­i­cans of Japan­ese descent as a teach­able moment for our nation on the dan­gers of stereo­typ­ing, prej­u­dice, and racial pro­fil­ing. While we can honor and admire indi­vid­u­als that can retain their per­sonal dig­nity under the most adverse con­di­tions, there should be no doubt, Jus­tice Thomas, that the gov­ern­ment can deprive peo­ple of their “equal dignity.”

For­tu­nately, a Supreme Court major­ity has now held that the Con­sti­tu­tion man­dates that same-sex cou­ples are enti­tled to equal treat­ment – and mar­riage equality.

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July 1, 2015 2

Mainstream Figures Demonize Hispanic Immigrants with Bigoted Rhetoric

Donald Trump

Don­ald Trump

There has been a back­lash against Don­ald Trump’s big­oted com­ments about Mex­i­cans in his kick­off cam­paign for the pres­i­dency.* How­ever, Trump is just one fig­ure who has been demo­niz­ing Mex­i­can immi­grants in the last few weeks. Polit­i­cal pun­dit Ann Coul­ter has a new book on The New York Times best­seller list that attacks the Latino com­mu­nity, par­tic­u­larly Mex­i­cans. Pat Buchanan, another polit­i­cal pun­dit has also weighed in on the issue.

When Trump announced his run for pres­i­dent on June 16, he referred to Mex­i­cans as rapists and crim­i­nals and accused them of bring­ing drugs into the U.S. Almost two weeks later, when try­ing to clar­ify his com­ments on CNN, he actu­ally extended his vit­riol toward other immi­grants. He said that peo­ple com­ing over the bor­der were “really bad. “ He added, “You have peo­ple com­ing in, and I’m not just say­ing Mex­i­cans, I’m talk­ing about peo­ple that are from all over that are killers and rapists and they’re com­ing into this country.”

Net­work tele­vi­sion sta­tions NBC and Uni­vi­sion sev­ered their ties with Trump due to his com­ments. How­ever, he is just one main­stream fig­ure who has attacked immi­grants in recent weeks. Coul­ter, a syn­di­cated colum­nist, gave her book the provoca­tive title, Adios, Amer­ica! The Left’s Plan to Turn Our Coun­try into a Third World Hell­hole. In the book, Coul­ter makes sim­i­lar com­ments to Trump.

Coul­ter attacks His­panic cul­ture and then says, “How can any immi­grant assim­i­late if Amer­i­cans refuse to men­tion their lit­tle cul­tural annoy­ances such as lit­ter­ing, drunk dri­ving, and child rape.” In an inter­view on the Fusion show, “Amer­ica with Jorge Ramos,” the host ques­tioned Coulter’s asser­tion that Amer­i­cans should fear Mex­i­cans more than the ter­ror­ist group ISIS.

In response, Coul­ter said, “I have a lit­tle tip. If you don’t want to be killed by ISIS, don’t go to Syria. If you don’t want to be killed by a Mex­i­can, there’s noth­ing I can tell you.”

Another polit­i­cal pun­dit and syn­di­cated colum­nist, Pat Buchanan, has also added his own view on the issue of immi­gra­tion. Buchanan wrote a recent col­umn titled “Is Third World Amer­ica Inevitable?” In it, he praises Coulter’s book and says that “if the next pres­i­dent embraces amnesty and a path to cit­i­zen­ship for ille­gal immi­grants, that will mean the end to Amer­ica as the West­ern nation we have been, and the begin­ning of America’s life as what Ann calls, unapolo­get­i­cally, a ‘Third World hellhole.’”

Taken together, these com­ments demon­strate that anti-immigrant rhetoric is not just an issue for white suprema­cists and other extrem­ists but is very much a part of the main­stream. While you have a Con­sti­tu­tional right to be a bigot in this coun­try, there are usu­ally social and eco­nomic con­se­quences.  Trump has paid a price for his bigotry.

* As a 501(c )(3) non-profit orga­ni­za­tion, the Anti-Defamation League does not sup­port or oppose can­di­dates for polit­i­cal office.

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June 30, 2015 3

Texas’ “Pastor Protection Act” Is Far From Innocuous

In antic­i­pa­tion of the U.S. Supreme Court sanc­tion­ing mar­riage equal­ity, Texas Gov­er­nor Greg Abbott recently signed into law “the Pas­tor Pro­tec­tion Act.”  At the sign­ing cer­e­mony, the Gov­er­nor stated “I am proud to sign into law SB 2065 … to ensure that clergy in Texas can­not be forced to vio­late their reli­gious beliefs.”   Based on the governor’s state­ments, the law appears to be noth­ing more than a mere cod­i­fi­ca­tion of exist­ing First Amend­ment rights.  But on closer exam­i­na­tion, this overly broad law likely sanc­tions dis­crim­i­na­tion in the mar­ket­place against les­bian, gay, bisex­ual, and trans­gen­der (LGBT) peo­ple, as well as other groups.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott

Texas Gov­er­nor Greg Abbott

The new law applies to clergy, reli­gious orga­ni­za­tions and their employ­ees, and “… an orga­ni­za­tion super­vised or con­trolled by or in con­nec­tion with a reli­gious orga­ni­za­tion. “  It pro­hibits sanc­tions against any of these indi­vid­u­als or enti­ties that refuse to “sol­em­nize any mar­riage or pro­vide ser­vices, accom­mo­da­tions, facil­i­ties, goods, or priv­i­leges for a pur­pose related to the sol­em­niza­tion, for­ma­tion, cel­e­bra­tion of any mar­riage” based on a vio­la­tion of their “… sin­cerely held reli­gious beliefs.”

The right of clergy, houses of wor­ship and their employ­ees to only sol­em­nize, par­tic­i­pate in or rec­og­nize mar­riages that adhere to their faith has always been the law of the land.  Just as the First Amend­ment allows a rabbi to refuse mar­riage of an inter­faith cou­ple or a priest to sim­i­larly refuse the mar­riage of a divorced per­son, noth­ing in Supreme Court’s mar­riage deci­sion abridges that right in the con­text of mar­riage equal­ity.   Indeed, those rights were explic­itly acknowl­edged in the Court’s opin­ion and at the oral argu­ment in Oberge­fell v. Hodges.

How­ever, the Pas­tor Pro­tec­tion Act goes well beyond these sacro­sanct First Amend­ment rights.  The new law likely applies to religiously-affiliated orga­ni­za­tions and schools.  Fur­ther­more, it makes no dis­tinc­tion among enti­ties that are run for-profit or open them­selves to the pub­lic.  So under the law a religiously-affiliated uni­ver­sity  that rents a ban­quet hall to the pub­lic for wed­dings could legally refuse a same-sex cou­ple or other reli­gious minori­ties.  The same would be true for a com­mer­cial wed­ding chapel.   That’s not reli­gious free­dom, but rather government-sanctioned dis­crim­i­na­tion.  And unlike reli­gious or racial minori­ties, same-sex cou­ples in Texas have no fed­eral recourse against such discrimination.

The mar­riage equal­ity deci­sion strictly con­cerned the right to civil mar­riage.  But cloaked in slo­gans such as “free­dom to wor­ship,” “sacred rights” or “pas­tor pro­tec­tion,” oppo­nents of civil mar­riage equal­ity are using the Supreme Court’s deci­sion as an oppor­tu­nity to impose their reli­gious views about mar­riage on our nation’s plu­ral­is­tic mar­ket­place.   Regret­tably the Pas­tor Pro­tec­tion Act is only the begin­ning of a tor­rent of state leg­is­la­tion that is sure to come.