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The Unacceptability of Bigotry

On Behalf of | Mar 7, 2016 | Firm News |

I make it a point not to advocate for particular political positions or to take positions on questions of public policy that are not directly related to the interest of my clients, at least when I am writing in my capacity as the shareholder of a law firm. Recent events however, have led me to believe that it would be irresponsible to stay quiet in light of public discourse which seems to encourage bigotry. In these pages I do not advocate for or against a particular policy concerning immigration. However, as a law firm that fights against discrimination, I must speak out against the casual labeling of Mexican-Americans as having tendencies towards criminal conduct, by one presidential candidate.

As I understand the data, this is simply erroneous. Even if there were legitimate concerns about the character of individuals who are emigrating from Mexico or Central America, which I have never heard credible evidence to support, the way in which one presidential candidate has described these people is dangerous.

One test as to whether rhetoric is acceptable is to play a little game in which you substitute those being described with the group you belong to, or have warm-feelings towards. Then you can imagine how it would feel for all of those good people in that group that you belong to, to be associated with the negative attributes being described for the group as a whole. These are lessons we teach elementary school children. Indeed, by the time children are in middle school, they can be suspended for ethnic name calling, and this is not uncommon. One reason why we do not tolerate ethnic name calling in the workplace or in schools, is because we have decided that the free speech rights of the speaker should be reasonably limited to convey respect for the other members of that community. This is not “political correctness,” nor is this merely good manners. It goes right to the core of what this country is about.

We started out as a nation as Congregationalists in Massachusetts, Catholics in Maryland, Quakers in Pennsylvania, Presbyterians in Georgia and Baptists in Rhode Island. We became one nation by going beyond those differences and treating individuals as more than their particular ethnicity or religion. In becoming independent from the British, and in developing our strength as a great country, we would have failed if we would have allowed ourselves to remain bigoted and parochial, for we would have been divided.

The same presidential candidate has made comments about Muslims that casually suggest a tendency towards the commission of terrorist attacks. Again, this author takes no position about the merits of a particular immigration or national security policy in these pages. But the rhetoric that has been used cannot stand. It is reminiscent of that used against Japanese-Americans during WWII and German-Americans during World War I. I do not suggest that the government should be “soft” on terrorists, but it is a very dangerous path to suggest the people of a religious group have a tendency to be unpatriotic. In the years following WWII, when we could look to Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union as examples of everything we were not, such a statement by me would not have been necessary. Many Americans were broadly aware that Nazi rhetoric led to the Holocaust and that Stalin’s hatred of ethnic groups such as Ukrainians represented evils. Fortunately, we are decades past the end of the Soviet-Union, and we are more than 70 years past the end of Nazi Germany. But it is incumbent upon all of us to remember that American values lie in direct opposition to the singling out of groups of people for hatred.

Finally, this same presidential candidate has been bizarrely comfortable in belittling opponents who are women or who are disabled in a cruel, intemperate, discriminatory fashion. Women and the disabled, just like ethnic and religious groups, are human beings and deserve to be treated with dignity. It is dangerous to reduce a woman to her gender because you take issue with her words or actions. It is dangerous because this nation has a history of limiting the rights of women in the most basic of legal respects. Most American women could not vote 100 years ago. The ability of a woman to work in a profession of her choice, and to stay employed even though she got married or had children, are legal rights that have only been obtained in the past 50 years. The ability of the disabled to have a place in the community is a legal right that is only 20 years old. This law firm litigates cases to advance the rights of women, the disabled, and the rights of all ethnic religious groups including the rights of Anglo-Saxon Christians. When a popular political leader speaks with such hostility, it becomes socially acceptable to create a hostile educational environment or hostile work environment. For the past 20 years, this firm has fought to make it socially unacceptable to create such a hostile environment in the school and the workplace.

So by all means vote for whomever you want, and encourage the government to pursue whatever policies you favor. But demand civility and respect from our leaders and stand up for those who are picked on and belittled in your own community.