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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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December 10, 2013 1

Promoting Human Rights on the 65th Anniversary of the Historic Universal Declaration of Human Rights

On Decem­ber 10, 1948, the United Nations Gen­eral Assem­bly adopted the Uni­ver­sal Dec­la­ra­tion of Human Rights (UDHR), the first ever global asser­tion that “all human beings are born with equal and inalien­able rights and fun­da­men­tal free­doms.” The world cel­e­brates annual Human Rights Day on Decem­ber 10th each year.  This Decem­ber, ADL hon­ors the UDHR’s 65th anniver­sary by con­tin­u­ing to fight for the rights enshrined in that momen­tous dec­la­ra­tion and by teach­ing new gen­er­a­tions of chil­dren to learn about the prin­ci­ples it reflects.

Eleanor Roosevelt holding the Human Rights Declaration

Human Rights Day has par­tic­u­lar mean­ing for ADL because anti-Semitism and the per­se­cu­tion of Jews was the touch­stone for the cre­ation of some of the foun­da­tional human rights instru­ments in the after­math of the Holo­caust.  ADL is com­mit­ted to edu­cat­ing youth about the lessons of the Holo­caust and how big­otry and exclu­sion can lead down a slip­pery slope toward unspeak­able atroc­i­ties, and our web site fea­tures a short list of books for chil­dren on the UDHR and how it relates to the rights of chil­dren globally.

ADL is engag­ing activists in pro­tect­ing the rights cham­pi­oned by this his­toric doc­u­ment whether it is by pro­tect­ing the right of all chil­dren to an edu­ca­tion, free­dom of reli­gion and belief for all, or free­dom to asso­ciate and to seek asy­lum from per­se­cu­tion. This month, our pri­or­ity human rights issues have put the spot­light on:

Today, through our activism and rais­ing aware­ness, we honor the spirit of the mov­ing words of, one of the UDHR’s authors, Eleanor Roo­sevelt, who asked:

Where, after all, do uni­ver­sal human rights begin? In small places, close to home – so close and so small that they can­not be seen on any maps of the world. Yet they are the world of the indi­vid­ual per­son; the neigh­bor­hood he lives in; the school or col­lege he attends; the fac­tory, farm or office where he works. Such are the places where every man, woman and child seeks equal jus­tice, equal oppor­tu­nity, equal dig­nity with­out dis­crim­i­na­tion. Unless these rights have mean­ing there, they have lit­tle mean­ing any­where. With­out con­cerned cit­i­zen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.


– Eleanor Roo­sevelt, “In Our Hands” (1958 speech deliv­ered on the tenth anniver­sary of the Uni­ver­sal Dec­la­ra­tion of Human Rights)



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June 28, 2013 5

One Giant Step Forward Towards Full Equality for the LGBT Community — What’s Next?

There is much to cel­e­brate in the Supreme Court mar­riage equal­ity deci­sions. The Anti-Defamation League filed ami­cus briefs in both U.S. v. Wind­sor and Hollingsworth v. Perry on behalf of a broad, diverse group of reli­gious orga­ni­za­tions, empha­siz­ing that there are many dif­fer­ent reli­gious views on mar­riage and that no one reli­gious under­stand­ing should be used to define mar­riage recog­ni­tion and rights under civil law.

Your rights should not depend on your ZIP code.

Your rights should not depend on your ZIP code.

ADL’s brief in the Wind­sor case began with the asser­tion that reli­gious def­i­n­i­tions of mar­riage vary, includ­ing per­spec­tives over whether or not gay and les­bian cou­ples may marry. Our brief then set out two argu­ments: (1) the Defense of Mar­riage Act (DOMA) vio­lated the estab­lish­ment clause because it was enacted with a reli­gious pur­pose, based on a par­tic­u­lar reli­gious under­stand­ing of mar­riage; and (2) DOMA vio­lated equal pro­tec­tion under the Fifth Amend­ment because it was moti­vated by moral dis­ap­proval of gay and les­bian peo­ple with­out any legit­i­mate gov­ern­ment purpose.

Our Perry brief urged the Court to reject the reli­gious and moral jus­ti­fi­ca­tions expressed by Propo­si­tion 8 pro­po­nents.  It demon­strated how, over the past quar­ter cen­tury, the Supreme Court has rejected laws dis­fa­vor­ing minor­ity groups based on moral or reli­gious dis­ap­proval alone – with one, now dis­cred­ited, excep­tion, Bow­ers v. Hard­wick. The brief looked back over time and showed how laws like slav­ery, seg­re­ga­tion, pro­hi­bi­tions on inter­ra­cial mar­riage, and laws dis­crim­i­nat­ing against women – laws that were jus­ti­fied on moral and reli­gious grounds – had ulti­mately been rejected by the Court.

ADL hailed the Court’s two deci­sions, while rec­og­niz­ing that much work remains to be done to pro­mote LGBT equal­ity.  Now that DOMA has been ruled uncon­sti­tu­tional, legal ana­lysts – and gov­ern­ment offi­cials – will be sort­ing out the range of fed­eral ben­e­fits that can now be accorded to legally-married same-sex cou­ples.  Same-sex cou­ples in Cal­i­for­nia can pre­pare for full recog­ni­tion and rights in their state. It is clear, how­ever, that, for now, the full range of ben­e­fits, priv­i­leges, and respon­si­bil­i­ties of mar­riage will con­tinue to be denied cou­ples in 37 other states.

More­over, at a time when it is still legal to fire employ­ees solely because they are les­bian, gay, or bisex­ual in 29 states – and in 33 states it is legal to fire some­one solely for being trans­gen­der — it is nec­es­sary to com­ple­ment this week’s for­ward progress with work­place dis­crim­i­na­tion pro­tec­tions, ini­tia­tives to pre­vent bias-motivated vio­lence, and pro­grams to pro­mote safe learn­ing envi­ron­ments for LGBT students.

To these ends, ADL sup­ports the Employ­ment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which would expand exist­ing fed­eral employ­ment dis­crim­i­na­tion cov­er­age to include pro­tec­tion for those who are dis­crim­i­nated against based on their sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion and/or gen­der iden­tity.  ADL is a national leader in con­fronting hate vio­lence, hav­ing played a lead role in coali­tion work to enact and imple­ment the Matthew Shep­ard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Pre­ven­tion Act (HCPA). And the League has also been in the fore­front of efforts to ensure safe school envi­ron­ments for all stu­dents, regard­less of their reli­gion, sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion, or gen­der iden­tity, through the devel­op­ment of edu­ca­tion and train­ing pro­grams  and bul­ly­ing pre­ven­tion initiatives.

While we cel­e­brate the great step for­ward in mar­riage equal­ity, we must not lose sight of the fact that   our nation has suf­fered a major set­back to civil rights when the Supreme Court struck down a crit­i­cal part of the 1965 Vot­ing Rights Act, In this, ADL’s  100th anniver­sary year, we reded­i­cate our­selves to secur­ing, in the words of our found­ing Char­ter, “jus­tice and fair treat­ment for all.”

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