Carlyle Fielding Stewart III

Writings on Democracy, Social Justice, and Religion

Affirmative Action

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

September 14, 2006

Nearly forty have passed since the death of Martin Luther King Jr, but the struggle for Civil and Human Rights continue in America today. The 1960’s represented a time in our nation when people of all colors, genders and religious persuasions joined together as once voice to speak against the continuing injustices against the poor and oppressed, many of whom were African Americans; injustices that deprived them of their constitutional freedoms such as the right to vote, the right to be considered for employment in areas in which they had more than qualified themselves, and the right to a good education.

The Civil Rights movement became a springboard, a launching pad if you will, for the advocacy of civil and human rights of women, other minorities including the handicapped, aged, and differently abled. The Movement came to be identified subsequently as a parent of sovereignty struggles for freedom not only in America but in other parts of the world such as Poland and South Africa.

The massive galvanization of people across so many cultural and ethnic lines in a corporate concern for truth and justice represented a high point in American history and effected a seismic shift away from the various forms of “legalized” discrimination and injustice in the public domain.

In many sectors of our nation, and with the emergence of LBJ’s Great Society, where the Voting Rights Act passed and discriminatory practices in hiring and employment outlawed, the old moorings gave way to new sensibilities; the old ground gave way to efforts to forge a new common ground in which all Americans could finally realize the constitutional oaths made to them as citizens of this great nation and work towards building the Beloved Community envisioned by Martin Luther King., Jr.

“We hold these truths to be self evident that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, among these are life liberty and the pursuit of happiness…and that great declaration goes on to state…and for the support of this declaration, with a firm on the protection of divine providence, we mutually pledge our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honors.

Inherent in another great document of Freedom, the constitution; a document like no other in history, whose principle influences were perhaps the Magna Carta and the Holy Bible, and various English and French social philosophers, we find as its core the religious and moral imperatives of truth, justice, freedom, and equality.

Jefferson himself in writing the Constitution drew his grand vision of freedom from ancient religious and moral traditions. He said once, “God who gave us life gave us liberty. Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are a gift from God? Indeed, I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, that His justice cannot sleep forever. Commerce between master and slave is despotism. Nothing is more certain in the book of fate than these people are to be free. Establish a law to educate the common man. ”

At the heart of our three great documents of freedom: the Constitution, Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights, is a grand and glorious vision of a society that will one day culminate in the freedom of all people. Even some of the writers of these great documents who once held slaves knew that the larger vision of freedom and justice held forth on their pages, would one day be binding and that in the future, payment would be due for those whose rights had long been denied. Justice delayed is justice denied. What they could not grant that day, the constitution could guarantee for the future, and the moral and religious imperatives that guided them in establishing this representative democracy would be forever held in highest reverence and esteem.

Freedom, justice and equality anchored in timeless and enduring moral truths that under gird the very universe itself. Freedom, justice and equality are realities not desired by mankind alone but are qualities that even the almighty wills, entrusts and bequeaths to them as divine gifts for all eternity. As John F. Kennedy said in his inaugural address; “The rights of man come not from the generosity of the state but the hand of God.”

Theologian Reinhold Neibuhr reminds us that in the personal realm the highest human virtue is love. In the corporate realm of society the moral equivalent of love is justice. The great gift of American democracy is that justice for all is be at once, firmly and finally realized because in the words of Martin Luther King jr., “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

The ideas of freedom, justice and equality are at the heart of our Constitution and the heart of our ancient moral and religious traditions. Government of the people, by the people and for the people is founded on these noble and sublime principles which are rooted in biblical tradition. The prophet Amos declares, “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.” And Jesus himself, in line with some of the prophets before him announced, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me for he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor and brokenhearted and to set at liberty those that bruised and oppressed.”

At the heart of American democracy, the American constitution and those other great documents is an enduring concern for freedom, justice and equality; principles based on and supported by divine truth and divine providence.

Accordingly, the beliefs that American Democracy and the freedoms it upholds is to be inclusive of all people. It is a concern for have and have not, the least of these and the most of these, the little man, woman and child, and the big man, small man and middle man; the citizen who needs a hand up and the citizen who needs a hand out. The spirit of this Democracy, which embodies the benevolent spirit of the almighty God should permeate every sector and segment of our nation which includes main street, front street and back street, Wall Street, Beale Street and Jump Street; rural, suburban, and urban, Southern, Northern, Eastern, Middle and Western; Jew, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Sik, agnostic and atheist; black, white, Indian, Hispanic, Asian and other; upper class, middle class, lower class and no class; blue collar, white collar, green collar and no collar, homosexual, bisexual and heterosexual; young, old, and middle aged, educated, non educated, semi educated; university trained and those trained in the school of hard knocks; M. D.; Ph. D or no “D.”

The greatness of American democracy is its reach and concern for all people; a concern enshrined in her sacred writs as holy grail; a concern for the welfare of all people which means that any person who comes to live in within the halls of these hallowed shores can have freedom, justice and equality. I repeat that it is a concern for all people; not just a select few people; not just the rich people and the big people but all people. This is the great hallmark of our Constitutional Republic, our American democracy which we all should cherish and vouchsafe.

America is place where so many for so long have fought, bled and died to preserve our freedoms both at home and abroad, and now, even after many people have given and still give their last full measure of devotion for freedom, we have vested interests who want to turn back the clock, throw it all out of the window, take it all away with an attack on affirmative action and other programs that prevent discrimination against women, blacks and other minorities and advocate for them fair and equal treatment.

Those vested interests now seek to denigrate the memory and efforts of those who fought so long and hard to bring about the reality of freedom, equality and justice for all Americans that have been promised in America’s most sacred documents.

To rescind affirmative action and all that it represents is an affront to the spirit of God; the spirit of and faith in representative democracy and a violation of all that America stands for. It trashes the constitution and incinerates its inherent moral values.  Many of the anti-affirmative action supporters wrongfully say that affirmative action only benefits blacks. “Racial Preferences” become a key buzz word. They use these words to drive wedges among the people; to divide and conquer and to misrepresent truth, mislead the citizenry and destroy the initiative altogether.

The truth is women and other minorities have received a fair shake from these various programs. The issue is not preferential treatment. A more appropriate word would be fair and just treatment.

Today in Michigan, we might not have a female Governor if Affirmative Action had not been instituted and we might not have the diversity of representatives in Congress that we have today.

Furthermore, many anti-affirmative action supporters say that through affirmative action, qualified people are displaced by unqualified people. The truth is qualified people who have been traditionally excluded from having an opportunity for employment, are now given fair consideration. Before Affirmative Action, they were presumed dead or non-existent and if they did exist, they were not even given consideration. Now they have an opportunity to be fairly considered and in many cases, more qualified candidates who had been historically excluded from them through discrimination are have been offered employment.

In thinking of the thousands of black men and women who had gone to College to receive undergraduate and advanced degrees who had to work as Pullman Porters, mail carriers or ditch diggers because they were not considered qualified or even given the remotest consideration to work at jobs commensurate with their skills and training, or the countless women and others who were considered too weak to vote or work, affirmative action is a good way of making sure that people who have been left out can be brought in, regardless of race or gender, and are given due consideration for their gifts and training.

The problem with this new proposal is that it goes against everything that America stands for. It snatches the rug right out from under the long, hard progress we have made as a nation.

The ballot itself is worded is cleverly worded; reminiscent of Orwell’s doublespeak designed to promote crimestop. It is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Many Californians who voted for this proposal later lamented that the ballot was worded in way that deliberately confused them. Had they known what they know now many of them would have voted “no.”

This proposal is not only cleverly and deceptively worded, it seeks to erase the memory and sacrifices of those who have fought for justice and freedom; it kills dreams, destroys hope and pushes America back into the dark ages and ushers in a new feudalism.

Perhaps nothing is more egregious in the eyes of the Almighty than the fact that we would advocate freedom, democracy, justice and equality abroad by sending soldiers into battle who sacrifice their lives on the sacred altar of freedom, then deny those very same principles to our very own citizens who ancestors have fought, bled and died for freedom by giving their lives in sacrifice that this nation might live. What could be more perplexing than the fact that we would boldly offer freedom to others not within our shores and deny it to those who are in our shores.

Nothing is perhaps more perplexing to our Creator than the fact that we would fight so vigorously to keep people who are deserving from receiving opportunities that could have make them better. “Who, says Jesus, ”when his child is hungry, would offer him a scorpion instead of a fish? He also goes on to say in another scriptural context, “When you do it to the least of these you do it me.” It is one thing beloved, for opportunity to knock. It is another thing for opportunity to knock you down. It is still another thing for opportunity not to knock at all.

The truth is, as Americans we all suffer when a few because of race or gender or ethnicity are not allowed to have life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. We all suffer when we are denied an opportunity to develop our minds, explore freely new frontiers and conquer new horizons of the unknown and use our gifts to make ourselves, America and the world a better place in which to live. The biggest room in the world is improvement and we can all improve.

Sadly, were it not for discrimination and injustice, perhaps by now in America, we could have had a cure for cancer, and many of the plagues and problems still dogging human kind and tearing it asunder could finally be eradicated.

But, because we have shut people out of the process of freedom, denied them justice and equality, we have really shut ourselves out long term from opportunities for advancement.

When we say to people that you can’t have equal access to the resources of our great nation, especially when you helped to build that nation; that we cannot consider you for opportunities because of your race or gender, when historically we have separated you and denied you from opportunities for that very same reason; when we say that you cannot have access to the rich treasure that has made America unique, we may come woefully to a place in our journey where the creator himself who had enough of our insolence will revoke these gifts from us.

Abraham Lincoln said, “Stand with anybody that stands right. Stand with him while he is right and part with him when he goes wrong.”

This anti Affirmative action initiative is wrong. It goes against all that America stands for. It undermines and repudiates those great and divine principles of truth, justice, freedom and equality. It glorifies the past and denies the future. It segregates, penalizes and exorciates those who dare to choose freedom; those who dare to use their God given gifts to be all that God has called them to be; to serve with dignity and excellence their nation, community and a larger humanity. It spills poison into the sacred chalices of sacrifice and taints the blood of those martyrs who have died on the sacred altars of freedom. It pits humanity against humanity. It does not surmount the things that unite us but cements the things that divide us. It does not promote hope, but merely promotes the selfishness, greed and myopia of a select few who do not have at heart the public interests. They would rather subjugate the people in accordance to the rule of Kings rather than serve the people with the rules of God. This anti affirmative action initiative not only goes against the spirit of democracy, but also denies the very spirit of God who desires that we do justice and walk humbly with our God.

What is right, what is true, what is just, what is freedom, what is equality are the moral and religious imperatives that glorify our creator and unite as a people and are the hallmarks upon which our great constitutional republic rests.

To destroy affirmative action and throw it into the trash heap of annihilation and the cauldron despair only deepens the agony and open the wounds of a nation that has long tried to heal.

What we need today more than ever is compassion, wisdom, understanding and justice. We need a new sensitivity that runs from heart to heart and soul to soul. We need the kind of unity reminiscent of Civil Rights era and the immediate aftermath of 9/11; a unity that binds our wounds and brings us together; a concern for freedom, truth and justice that transcends the superficial categories that keep us apart and prevent us from seeing the things that we have in common and reaching common ground.

Let us have the moral courage, as a people to right wrong and to establish justice; to stand together against these and other initiatives that go against life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; and let us have temerity and holy boldness to stand as one together on the principles of truth, justice, freedom and equality, principles endeared by God and principles revered by freedom loving men and women and whose realization make us all better people and better Americans.

“Truth forever on the scaffold, wrong forever on the throne, but that scaffold sways the future, and behind the dim unknown standeth God within the shadows keeping watch above his own.”

Thank you.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *