“It’s Time For A Collective And Unbridled Demand For Justice”: Following MLK’s Example Means Ending Our ‘Whatever’ Mindset
I am often deeply disturbed by our remorseless witness. We are all implicated; we share responsibility for our witness of well-defined evil.
We don’t protect our most vulnerable children; we value people according to arbitrary standards blind to the image of God on every face; we are too quick to kill and to slow to forgive; we tolerate the desecration of the only earth we will ever know. We give a platform to political leaders who want to “take back our country” — by setting policies that favor the wealthiest over everyone else, selling public schools to the highest bidder, and tearing apart the safety net that sustains the elderly and assists our most vulnerable — as if their words and ideas are worth listening to, or are grounded in principles worthy of our attention or even support.
Our response? Too often it is tantamount to this: “Whatever.”
We allow injustices to persist as if solutions are someone else’s responsibility. We watched our Congress over the last six years — as we slid deeper into recession, as our immigration crisis worsened, as tragic deaths from gun violence killed children school by school, people in movie theaters, women and children in the sanctity of their homes — do less and less, making history for inactivity. Even now, behind all of the soaring rhetoric is a shocking lack of action. It’s almost as if Congress said, whatever. How will we respond?
February is African-American History Month, so rest assured there will be plenty of posturing by our elected leaders. I hope we will revisit a figure often celebrated at this time of year — but I hope we will have a new appreciation of his example, and what his example should mean in our daily lives.
Martin Luther King, Jr. was a young man, going about his daily business, following his predictable path when God called. He was a preacher’s kid from a solid middle class upbringing, attending Morehouse College in Atlanta, Boston University School of Theology, earning a Master of Divinity and a Ph.D. He was on a Yellow Brick Road headed for Oz. But God had need of him and he joined the ranks of prophets like Samuel, Amos and Jeremiah; like Martin Luther, and Dietrich Bonheoffer; like Gandhi, Ella Baker, Sojourner Truth, Fannie Lou Hamer and so many others that could be named.
In part, what distinguishes King and these moral giants is the fullness with which they heard the cry of injustice and responded. And we can all hear it if we listen, and we can all respond. As Callie Plunket-Brewton remarked, “The overwhelming witness of the prophets is that God has no tolerance for those who prey on the weak, who abuse their power, or who eat their fill while others are hungry.”
God has no tolerance for whatever.
And King had no tolerance for it either. In 1959 he said, “Make a career of humanity. Commit yourself to the noble struggle for equal rights. You will make a greater person of yourself, a greater nation of your country, and a finer world to live in.” Six years later, in 1965, he described his vision for where that career in humanity should lead us: “We must come to see that the end we seek is a society at peace with itself, a society that can live with its conscience.”
Today, are we not a society that has lost its conscience? One only has to listen to the foolishness that passes for debate in any political season — and there is one on the horizon — or to the witless chatter on our televisions to feel the weight of Whatever pulling us down into the gravity of our condition.
But I have hope. I have hope that people of faith in every tradition will heed the words and examples of King and other prophets, and will wake up and rise up, will speak up and stand up; will turn for a moment from entertaining ourselves, buying things, cheering sports teams and entertainers, and insist on a world where children have clean water to drink and safe places to sleep; where the elderly can rest secure, the fruit of their labor beyond the reach of politicians; where a good public education awaits every eager child and a job with a living wage is there for every adult willing and able to work; where health care is a right, not a privilege, and humanity has matured beyond the illusion that our security is gained by weapons and wars.
This month we will celebrate many great African-Americans whose contributions to better our nation and world seem incalculable. But rather than set them apart, let us learn from their example and respond as they would have responded. I long for the day when people of all faith traditions call upon those who exercise power in our nation with words lifted from the heart of our faith — so that our living may be transformed. The time for whatever has long since passed — it’s time for a collective and unbridled demand for justice.
By: Rev. Michael Livingston, Bill Moyers Blog, Moyers and Company, February 15, 2015; This post first appeared at TalkPoverty.
“Using Faith To Discriminate”: Religious Freedom Gives Me The Constitutional Right To Violate Your Constitutional Rights. Right?
Conservatives just love the Constitution. Or at least they say they do. The thing is, they don’t seem to have any idea how it works. At least that’s a more charitable explanation than saying they don’t care how the Constitution works and merely use it as a fig leaf while they undermine the rights it guarantees. And I’m a charitable kind of guy, so I won’t say that.
When the Supreme Court recognizes that marriage equality is a constitutionally guaranteed right, one part of the battle will be over. But conservatives have already begun to fight on another front, namely how to implement (or not) that right. Republican state legislators in Texas, Oklahoma, Utah, and both Carolinas (South Carolina was first!) have this year proposed various bills that would give government officials who perform civil marriage ceremonies and/or issue marriage licenses and other related documents the ability to refuse same-sex couples if it would violate a “sincerely held religious belief.”
Additionally, Oklahoma State Rep. Todd Russ proposed to take civil officials out of the marriage business altogether and force prospective couples to be married by “an ordained or authorized preacher or minister of the Gospel, priest or other ecclesiastical dignitary of any denomination who has been duly ordained or authorized by the church to which he or she belongs to preach the Gospel, or a rabbi.” Not a Christian or a Jew? Out of luck, apparently, although Rep. Russ says anyone else who wants to get married can “fil[e] an affidavit of common law marriage with the court clerk.” Small problem: the state of Oklahoma doesn’t recognize common law marriages, although courts have recognized some on a case-by-case basis. I’m sure Hindu and atheist couples will be just fine with that.
Even if they were adopted, such laws almost certainly would be struck down as unconstitutional. Nevertheless, they are instructive because of what they say about the conservative concept of religious freedom. John J. Kallam is a Baptist minister in North Carolina. He also served for 12 years as a magistrate judge in Rockingham County, in which capacity he officiated at numerous civil marriage ceremonies. Last October he quit after he was told he could not “opt out” of performing same-sex marriages.
“I felt, and still feel, that that is stepping on my right of religious freedom,” said Kallam. He brought up the matter of a Sikh soldier in the U.S. Army who successfully argued that religious freedom gave him the right to wear a turban and grow a beard, as mandated by his faith. Kallam asked why he should not have the freedom to act on the basis of his faith as well.
Let’s take Kallam’s argument seriously for a moment, in order to demonstrate why it is wrong to conflate these two examples as being equally deserving of legal protection under the framework of religious freedom. First, the Sikh-American soldier’s turban and beard are an act of expression that affects only himself, whereas a North Carolina magistrate judge refusing to perform a marriage directly affects other people, specifically by denying them a right that, as of last October 10, they possessed as citizens of that state. The soldier’s turban and beard do not violate anyone else’s rights, therefore they merit protection.
Religious freedom means that Kallam has every right to believe that marriage ought to be restricted to a man and a woman, or, for all I care, three men and a baby (whatever happened to Steve Guttenberg, anyway?). But Kallam cannot act on those beliefs–especially not as an officer of the state–if doing so would deny others their constitutional rights.
And this rejection of the clear distinction between expressing one’s faith and acting on it to discriminate against others is at the heart of the conservative concept of religious freedom. Last October, Gordon Klingenschmitt celebrated John Kallam for having stood up to “tyranny.” Klingenschmidt, by the way, also expressed the belief that LGBT activists “want you to disobey God so that you go to hell with them,” and added that the judges who declared bans against same sex marriage to be unconstitutional are “demonic judges who are imposing the devil’s law upon the people.”
Who is Gordon Klingenschmitt? A few weeks after making those statements on his “Pray in Jesus Name” television program, he won election and became a brand-new Republican state representative in Colorado. It’s a struggle between freedom and tyranny, folks.
In addition to pushing laws that would allow government officials to discriminate in the name of religious freedom, conservatives are also pushing laws that would allow private businesses to do the same thing, mostly in response to bakers, florists, and photographers who refused to provide services to customers putting on a same-sex marriage. According to Jim Campbell of the Alliance Defending Freedom, this is about “religious liberty.” He added, “we believe the Constitution protects the right of all citizens including business owners to live in a way consistent with their faith.” (Judges in Colorado, New Mexico, and Washington have already ruled against business owners in such cases. The business owner in the New Mexico case appealed to the Supreme Court, which declined to intervene.)
Along lines similar to Campbell and Kallam, South Carolina Republican State Sen. Lee Bright argued that laws allowing this kind of discrimination are not only right but constitutional because “we have similar language for folks that work in health care that don’t want to participate in abortions” due to their religious beliefs. At first glance, this might seem a potent argument. However, it’s little more than sleight of hand. Medical professionals are not allowed to say: “I perform abortions, but only for heterosexuals.” That would be discrimination, and that’s exactly what florists, bakers, and county magistrates would be doing if they provided their services to some, but not others.
Here’s the one I’d like to run by conservatives who talk about religious freedom in these terms: Think about someone whose religious beliefs state that women must not work outside the home. Now imagine that person having authority over hiring decisions at his job. Do his religious beliefs allow him to discriminate against a female candidate for a position? Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination on the basis of both religion and sex. I’d like to see a conservative argue that religious freedom gives the man in this scenario the right to reject, out of hand, all women candidates seeking employment.
This is not about religious freedom. All Americans are guaranteed the right to their religious beliefs, the right to worship (or not) any deity they choose in the manner in which they choose. That is a bedrock principle of this country and progressives would fight tooth and nail to preserve it, should it ever be endangered. The thing is, it’s not in danger, other than from conservatives themselves, from people like Bryan Fischer, who last September said that all immigrants should be forced to convert to Christianity. Fischer remains connected to the American Family Association, an organization closely allied to the Republican National Committee.
It’s real simple. Conservatives think religious freedom gives them the right to discriminate on the basis of their religious beliefs. They’re wrong, because, to paraphrase Zechariah Chafee, their right to practice their religion ends where my nose begins.
By: Ian Reifowitz, The Blog, The Huffington Post, February 2, 2015
The totality of an official’s record always matters. This week, for example, it would be easier for House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) to overcome the controversy surrounding his appearance at a white-supremacist event in 2002 if he had an otherwise sterling record on issues related to civil rights.
That’s not quite the case. Andrew Prokop noted last night:
…Scalise does not have a record of friendliness to African-American causes. When the Louisiana House voted on making Martin Luther King Day a holiday in 2004, 90 members were in favor and Scalise was one of the six against.
Note, as a Republican state lawmaker, Scalise clearly knew the King holiday was going to be approved, but he made a point of voting against it anyway.
To be sure, there are other notable Republicans who rose to national prominence after voting against a day honoring MLK. Former Vice President Dick Cheney (R), for example, voted against the King holiday as a member of Congress in 1978. Five years later, Cheney changed his mind.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) also voted against it in 1983, though in 1999, he said on “Meet the Press,” “We all learn, OK? We all learn. I will admit to learning, and I hope that the people that I represent appreciate that, too. I voted in 1983 against the recognition of Martin Luther King…. I regret that vote.”
Scalise, however, voted against the holiday in 2004.
Does this add an unfortunate wrinkle to the Louisiana Republican’s defense? It’s not unreasonable to think it does.
In the larger context, I saw some suggestions overnight that Republican politics is indifferent to racial division, so the Scalise controversy shouldn’t come as a surprise and won’t be consequential. There’s ample evidence to the contrary.
In 2002, for example, Trent Lott’s praise for Strom Thurmond’s 1948 segregationist platform cost him his role as Senate Majority Leader.
Last year, when Rep. Steve King used racially charged rhetoric about Latino immigrants, Speaker Boehner called the right-wing Iowan an “a**hole.”
Earlier this year, the Republican establishment was quite concerned about Chris McDaniel’s Senate campaign in Mississippi in light of McDaniel’s role at a neo-Confederate and pro-secessionist conference.
In other words, the party is concerned about its image and reputation when it comes to race. The question is whether or not Steve Scalise’s controversy is considered a real threat to that reputation.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, December 30, 2014
Back in 2001, I got into a long argument with a friend about Jesse Jackson, who had just acknowledged having fathered a child with a mistress. I insisted that Jackson’s retirement from the American political scene was long overdue, and that Jackson probably should have called it a career after the 1984 “Hymietown” controversy. Jackson, I asserted, had long since become an obnoxious, ineffective blowhard.
My friend disagreed. While not defending Jackson’s adultery or anti-Semitic rhetoric, he suggested that the best way for Jackson to leave the political stage was for white racism to decline dramatically, and that the folks who wanted Jackson to go away should work harder to combat the manifestations of discrimination. After all, he stated, “If racism goes away, what does Jesse have to complain about?”
I haven’t spoken to that old friend in some time, but I keep thinking about his remarks whenever I see Al Sharpton speak out about police brutality. I can’t say that I’ve ever been a Sharpton fan; I don’t watch his MSNBC program, and even when he makes points I agree with about police violence against African-Americans, I can’t help wondering if it might be better for American race relations to have those points made by someone with, frankly, a less controversial track record than Sharpton.
Yet the point my old friend made about Jackson also applies to Sharpton, no? If we all work harder to combat racism, discrimination, income inequality and police brutality, would we not, in effect, retire Sharpton? Is Sharpton not a reminder of our collective unfinished work?
When we hear complaints about Sharpton’s rhetoric and image, do we really think about how we should best answer those complaints? Getting rid of Sharpton wouldn’t get rid of racism…but getting rid of racism would get rid of Sharpton, no?
I’ll admit it: when I see Sharpton, I still think of Tawana Brawley and Freddie’s Fashion Mart and the other controversies of his past, not his calls for racial justice in the present. For many years, I regarded Sharpton as a voice of racial discord and resentment, and it’s tough for those memories of Sharpton to fade.
However, I can’t deny the validity of the argument that Sharpton’s grievances have to be addressed before he can depart from the platform of American politics. There are millions of Americans—left, right and center—who secretly want Sharpton to shut up and go away. The best way to achieve that goal, of course, is to actually fix the problems Sharpton is talking about.
By: D. R. Tucker, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Post, December 27, 2014
“A Consequential President”: Obama’s Record Makes Him A Major Historical Figure In Ways Most Presidents Are Not
In early January 1999, as President Clinton’s penultimate year in office was getting underway, columnist George Will could hardly contain his “disgust” for the Democrat in the White House. He published a piece condemning Clinton – one of many similar columns for the Washington Post conservative – but he did so in a very specific way.
Clinton is “defined by littleness,” Will said, adding, “He is the least consequential president” since Calvin Coolidge in the 1920s.
It’s arguably the harshest of all possible criticisms. All presidents quickly grow accustomed to a wide variety of rebukes, but no one ever wants to be dismissed as inconsequential. It’s another way of saying your presidency is forgettable. It doesn’t matter. History won’t judge you unkindly because judgments require significance, and you’re just … irrelevant.
More than a decade later, President Obama has also received his share of criticisms, but it’s probably fair to say “inconsequential” is an adjective that no one will use to describe his tenure.
We talked the other day about the remarkable stretch of successes the president has had just since the midterm elections, and it led Matt Yglesias to note the “incredible amount” Obama has accomplished over the last six years.
It has been, in short, a very busy and extremely consequential lame-duck session. One whose significance is made all the more striking by the fact that it follows an electoral catastrophe for Obama’s party. And that is the Obama era in a microcosm. Democrats’ overwhelming electoral win in 2008 did not prove to be a “realigning” election that handed the party enduring political dominance. Quite the opposite. But it did touch off a wave of domestic policymaking whose scale makes Obama a major historical figure in the way his two predecessors won’t be.
I agree, though I’d go a bit further than just his two more recent predecessors and argue that Obama’s record makes him a major historical figure in ways most presidents are not.
This isn’t even a normative argument, per se. Obama’s critics, especially on the right, can and should make their case that the president’s agenda is misguided and bad for the country. A leader can have a wealth of accomplishments, but those deeds must still be evaluated on the merits.
What Obama’s detractors cannot credibly claim is that those accomplishments do not exist. By now, the list is probably familiar to many observers: the president’s Recovery Act rescued the country from the Great Recession. His Affordable Care Act brought access to medical care to millions of families. Obama rescued the American auto industry, brought new safeguards to Wall Street, overhauled the student loan system, and vastly expanded LGBT rights.
He improved food safety, consumer protections, and national-service opportunities. He signed the New START treaty, ordered the mission that killed Osama bin Laden, reversed a failed U.S. policy towards Cuba, and used the Clean Air Act to make strides in addressing the climate crisis. He brought new hope to 5 million immigrants living in the United States, moved the federal judiciary in a more progressive direction, and helped restore America’s standing on the global stage.
The list goes on and on.
Yglesias is right that neither Clinton nor Bush can point to a similar litany of policy breakthroughs, but truth be told, very few presidents can. Note than when Paul Krugman praised Obama in his Rolling Stone cover story a couple of months ago, he used two distinct adjectives: “Obama has emerged as one of the most consequential and, yes, successful presidents in American history.”
All of this comes with two meaningful caveats. The first, as noted above, is that being “consequential” is not evidence of an a priori good. One can acknowledge a president’s accomplishments without liking them (or him). Tom Brady may be a consequential quarterback, but if you’re a Dolphins fan, you’re probably not impressed.
The second is that there’s a degree of fragility to some of this record. Next year, for example, Republicans on the Supreme Court may very well tear down the American health care system. In time, they may also derail Obama’s climate agenda. Congressional Republicans will spend the foreseeable future chipping away at everything from immigration progress to Wall Street safeguards. And if the nation elects a GOP successor for Obama, the next president may very well undo much of what this president has done.
But at least for now, we probably won’t see any columns about Obama similar to what George Will said in 1999.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, December 19, 2014