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Posts Tagged ‘equality’
July 3, 2015

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

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

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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