"There is difference and there is power. And who holds the power decides the meaning of the difference." --June Jordan

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Battle of the Constitutional Amendments

Today, the New York Times is reporting on vast changes in the U.S. Justice Department's agenda on Civil Rights. It's not especially surprising, considering who the president is, but they've beeen moving further and further away from dealing with cases of racial discrimination and dealing more and more with cases that deal with religious issues.
"We live in a society that is becoming more religiously diverse, even by the hour, said Kevin Seamus Hasson, who founded the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty 12 years ago. So its entirely appropriate and slightly overdue that the Justice Department is paying more attention to the various frictions that increasing religious diversity is causing in the society.

Combating racism remains an important mission, Mr. Hasson said, but one that has changed over the years. "We can now deal with the problems of racism more effectively on a more local level", he argued. 'We dont always need the federal government to come riding over the hill."

Um, right.

So, according to the Justie Department, cases that are more important than fighting racism include "allowing religious organizations like the Child Evangelism Fellowship to have the same access to public school students as nonreligious groups" and pursuing a "pending case from San Diego, [in which] the government defended the city's campground lease to the Boy Scouts, which had been challenged because of the group's religious tenets." (Or maybe it was the Boy Scouts' rampant homophobia the city really had a problem with.)

The article mentions a few cases of combating discrimination against Muslim women who wear hijab or helping people who want to build a mosque or temple in their neighborhoods, but these issues seem like the coverup plan for their real agenda of furthering aims of the Christian Right. And even if I could believe for a second that the intentions are completely noble, I'm still outraged that they're pursuing this agenda at the expense of fighting racism.
"[Attorney General Alberto] Gonzales has increasingly cited his agency's record on behalf of religious causes as among his most important accomplishments, often noting the successful intervention in cases on behalf of people who had suffered discrimination for wearing Muslim head coverings. In speeches, he routinely says that religious freedom is the nation's 'first freedom because our founders saw fit to place it first in the Bill of Rights."

Reading this quote, I was immediately reminded of the amazing book The Language War by Robin Tolmach Lakoff. There's a chapter about polical correctness and hate speech in which Lakoff discusses how conservatives like to lay claim to the first amendment's protection of free speech and then pit it against the equal protection under the law guaranteed by the 14th amendment. And she notes that - disgusting as it is - they think they should come out on top because the first amendment was thought of first.

So what I'm learning here is that only those first ten amendments from the Bill of Rights - the ones that were written by men who saw no problem whatsoever with human slavery and who thought white men should be the only people with any rights - are the only ones we should really care about. Good to know.


Anonymous said...

Ugh. I get super pissed when anyone tries to argue that an issue that is basically about human rights-- gay marriage/adoption rights, abortion access, EC access, racial discrimination, etc-- is a "state's issue." Yeah, let each state deal with it "in their own" way one by one, so that we can have 50 completely different set of rules regarding human rights! Somehow in their minds, it's totally acceptable to allow civil rights to those who live in progressive states and deny them to those who live among bigots. It makes me so angry.

Tracey said...

Exactly. Ever look at the NARAL site's state report cards regarding pro-choice legislation? My state (along with pretty much the rest of the midwest and south) gets a grade of F, while New York and California have As. It makes you not sure whether or not you should flee to a more woman-friendly state or stay and fight for the women who live where you already live.