Tags: Court | race | religion | politics

Cases Highlight Differing Views on Race, Religion, and Politics

Tuesday, 03 Jan 2012 10:26 AM

A really interesting decision of a federal appeals court in Atlanta, Georgia, was reported in The New York Times of December 28, 2011.

An employee at a Tyson chicken plant sued the company alleging racial discrimination and seeking damages for the act of a plant manager who “called adult black men working there ‘boy.’”

The Appeals Court, in a 2-to-1 decision, initially overturned the trial court’s finding in favor of the plaintiff, stating that “the uses [of boy] were conversational and nonracial in context.”

But there was such an uproar against the appeals court’s reversal amongst lawyers, civil rights leaders, and other federal judges that a year later the appeals court sua sponte (on its own) changed its decision and restored the $365,000 judgment in favor of the plaintiff, but rejected the $1 million punitive damage award.

In its original decision, the appeals court said:

“The use of ‘boy’ when modified by a racial classification like ‘black’ or ‘white’ is evidence of discriminatory intent. But the use of ‘boy’ alone is not evidence of discrimination.”

However, the U.S. Supreme Court disagreed, sending the case back to the appeals court, with the following admonition, according to the Times of December 28, “‘The speaker’s meaning may depend on various factors including context, inflection, tone of voice, local custom and historical usage,’ the justices said in an unsigned opinion.”

The Times reported “that admonition was rejected by the 11th Circuit panel last year. Then it was embraced this month though with little enthusiasm,” a reference to the reversal by the appeals court of its earlier decision.

Ultimately, justice was done in this case.

In Illinois, as in New York City, the Catholic Charities organization is an arm of the Catholic Church. Catholic Charities renders social services, e.g., adoption, foster care, etc., under contract and for fees comparable to those paid non-religious organizations.

Illinois, according to the Times of Dec. 12, 2011, specified that all vendors providing services to the state “must consider same-sex couples as potential foster care and adoptive parents if they want to receive state money.”

The Roman Catholic Bishops in Illinois “have shuttered most of the Catholic Charities affiliates in the state rather than comply with a new requirement.”

The Roman Catholic Church did the same in Washington, D.C., and Massachusetts under similar circumstances.

When I was mayor and before the city council at my request in 1986 enacted a law that prohibited the private sector from discriminating against gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered with respect to employment, housing and education, I directed that all private sector organizations doing business with the city end all discrimination in employment based on sexual orientation.

John Cardinal O’Connor and the Salvation Army responded that if the city bound them to follow these rules, they would cease entering into contracts with the city to provide social services to children, the homeless and the poor.

I replied that the regulations covered every vendor, religious and non-religious alike. Both the Roman Catholic Church and the Salvation Army sued the city on the basis of a state law that exempted them from state mandates that violate their religious teachings. They won, and we were never faced with their ending their services.

If the city had won the case, would you, the reader of this commentary, have imposed the non-discrimination policy or provided a religious exemption?

According to The New York Times of Dec. 24, 2011, South Carolina enacted legislation that would “require voters to present photo identification.” The Times reported that the Justice Department blocked that law saying it would “disproportionately suppress turnout among eligible minority voters.”

The Justice Department cited South Carolina’s own submitted data that “there were 81,938 minority citizens who are already registered to vote and who lack such identification, and that these voters are nearly 20 percent more likely to be ‘disenfranchised’ by the change than white voters.”

Whenever a state or municipality seeks to impose preconditions on qualifying for a benefit, e.g., food stamps or housing vouchers, it generally faces opposition based on the belief that it is racist to impose any such preconditions. I have always believed that there is nothing wrong, and certainly it is not racist to require fingerprinting to qualify for some government benefits, particularly where significant fraud is present in the program.

However, I agree with the Justice Department that South Carolina’s proposed picture ID requirement as a precondition to voting is not necessary. I just don’t’ believe that fraud at the polls, e.g. people seeking to vote twice or more, is a significant problem. The significant problem is that in the U.S. eligible voters, particularly in primaries, simply don’t go to the polls.

In New York, the primary vote is often 20 percent or less and the general election is 50 percent. To impede and reduce the vote further based on the desire to reduce or eliminate a fraud that really doesn’t exist, makes no sense.

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