The U.S. Supreme Court yesterday held that racial discrimination in choosing some applicants over others based on their racial appearance is unconstitutional.
This ruling of first importance to the U.S. is of global relevance.
Our human propensity to use our personal identities as stepping stones for the rejection of others is time-honored and universal across our cultures and religions.
Group A disparages Group B and Group B reciprocates with pleasure or with anger. Consider the war in Ukraine.
Pope Francis, in his last encyclical, Fratelli Tutti, gave us a lesson from a Catholic perspective in how to get the better of ourselves and not succumb to prejudice and cold-heartedness.
The American poet, Robert Frost, eloquently wrote:
Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offense.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That wants it down …
He writes of his neighbor, who was repairing a wall between their two properties:
I see him there
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me,
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father’s saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, ‘Good fences make good neighbors.’
The Court’s opinion vindicates the Caux Round Table Principles for Government, where we hold that:
The civic order shall serve all those who accept the responsibilities of citizenship.
Public power constitutes a civic order for the safety and common good of its members. The civic order, as a moral order, protects and promotes the integrity, dignity and self-respect of its members in their capacity as citizens and therefore, avoid all measures, oppressive and other, whose tendency is to transform the citizen into a subject. The state shall protect, give legitimacy to or restore all those principles and institutions which sustain the moral integrity, self-respect and civic identity of the individual citizen and which also serve to inhibit processes of civic estrangement, dissolution of the civic bond and civic disaggregation. This effort, by the civic order itself, protects the citizen’s capacity to contribute to the well-being of the civic order.
Justice shall be provided.
The civic order and its instrumentalities shall be impartial among citizens without regard to condition, origin, sex or other fundamental, inherent attributes. Yet, the civic order shall distinguish among citizens according to merit and desert where rights, benefits or privileges are best allocated according to effort and achievement, rather than as birthrights.
Racism subordinates individuals to social oppression and to narrative stereotypes. It denies humans their personal agency and freedom to flourish and constrains their ability, should they wish to, to be effective moral agents of the most high. Thus, the Court’s decision vindicates the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as well. The Declaration says:
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.
The Court, in a robust and intellectually rigorous opinion by Chief Justice John Roberts, vindicated the moral basis of the American Constitutional order. That moral basis was set forth in the 1776 Declaration of Independence, issued by British colonies in North America, which affirmed:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
As the Court also pointed out, a civil war, where approximately 360,000 white men, mostly volunteers, gave their lives that black persons should be freed from slavery, proved necessary to ensure that the promise of the Declaration would be made good for all Americans. The Court did honor to those fallen dead and to their president, Abraham Lincoln, also killed for his dedication to the cause that slavery must end. In his famous address at the battlefield of Gettysburg, Lincoln spoke of his country as a “new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”