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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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March 12, 2015

ADL Urges Supreme Court to Protect Religious Freedom by Supporting Marriage Equality

ADL brought together a broad coalition of religious, cultural and civil rights organizations, representing diverse faiths, traditions and cultures, to urge the U.S. Supreme Court to reject efforts to impose one particular religious understanding of marriage into law.

Photo credit Victoria Pickering

Photo credit Victoria Pickering

ADL filed a friend- of-the-court brief in the four cases pending before the Court: Obergefell v. Hodges, Tanco v. Haslam, DeBoer v. Snyder, and Bourke v. Beshear. These cases challenge Marriage Bans in Ohio, Tennessee, Michigan, and Kentucky, state constitutional amendments that define marriage as exclusively between one man and one woman. The brief, filed on behalf of a coalition of 25 organizations, recounts how discrimination targeting disadvantaged groups – odious artifacts such as slavery, segregation, bans on interracial marriage, and laws subjugating women – all now considered anachronistic blemishes – were justified by religious and moral disapproval, an argument that has been rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court. The brief also argues that overturning the marriage bans would not only ensure that religious considerations do not improperly influence which marriages the state can recognize, but would also allow religious groups to decide the definition of marriage for themselves. Religions are, and absolutely should remain, free to solemnize and recognize marriages as they see fit, as they do when it comes to interfaith marriages or marriages post-divorce. This brief is just the latest effort by ADL to advance Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) rights around the country and across the globe. ADL was joined on the briefs by The American Jewish Committee; Bend the Arc – A Jewish Partnership for JusticeThe Central Conference of American Rabbis and the Women of Reform Judaism; Global Justice Institute; Hadassah – The Women’s Zionist Organization of America, Inc.; The Hindu American Foundation; The Interfaith Alliance Foundation; The Japanese American Citizens League; Jewish Social Policy Action Network (JSPAN); Keshet; Lutherans Concerned/North America; Metropolitan Community Church; More Light Presbyterians; The National Council of Jewish Women; Nehirim; People for the American Way Foundation; Presbyterian Welcome; ReconcilingWorks: Lutherans for Full Participation; Reconstructionist Rabbinical College and Jewish Reconstructionist Communities; Religious Institute, Inc.; The Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund; Society for Humanistic Judaism; South Asian Americans Leading Together; T’ruah: Rabbis for Human Rights-North America; and Women’s League for Conservative Judaism. The law firm Greenberg Traurig LLP prepared the friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of ADL.

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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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