Monday, June 30, 2014

Civil Rights—Then (1964) and Now

One of the most important pieces of legislation of the twentieth century was signed fifty years ago this week, on July 2, 1964. That was the day President Johnson, just a few hours after House approval, signed the Civil Rights Act into law.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlawed segregation in businesses such as theaters, restaurants, and hotels. It banned discriminatory practices in employment and ended segregation in public places such as swimming pools, libraries, and public schools.
That 1964 piece of legislation was highly significant. An article in the Huffington Post asserted that it “affected the nation profoundly” and “changed American history.” While it did not solve all the problems of discrimination against African-Americans immediately, it did lead quickly to great improvements.
To give but one example, in Mississippi voter registration of the eligible black population increased from under 7 percent in 1965 to more than 70 percent in 1967.
Back in 1964, the term “civil rights” was used almost exclusively for the rights of African-Americans. In recent years that same term has increasingly been applied to the rights of LGBT persons.
Last semester one of my African-American students, who was considerably older that most of the other students in the class, objected to my use of “civil rights” to refer to what are also called gay/lesbian rights.
But civil rights should be enjoyed by all Americans, and gays/lesbians are the main segment of society today whose rights are often unprotected.
In recent years, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) bill proposed in the U.S. Congress would prohibit discrimination in hiring and employment on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity by employers with at least 15 employees.
On November 7, 2013, such a bill passed by the Senate with bipartisan support by a vote of 64-32. President Obama supports the bill’s passage, but opposition in the Republican-dominated House of Representatives has kept the bill from becoming law.
Consequently, on June 16 it was announced that the President plans to sign an executive order banning discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender employees by companies that do business with the federal government.
The President’s order will implement on a limited scale what the White House would like to see Congress pass into law for the entire nation.
A June 23 article in Bloomberg Businessweek is titled, “Most Americans Think It's Illegal to Fire Someone for Being Gay. They're Wrong.” That article goes on to point out,
Most U.S. states lack explicit legislation barring discrimination against LGBT employees; current U.S. law is uneven, limited, and ambiguous. Only 21 states and the District of Columbia bar firing employees for their sexual orientation. Of those, 18 (and again, Washington) also ban firing transgender employees.
The President’s upcoming executive order is surely a step in the right direction. It’s a real shame, though, that there cannot be bipartisan support for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act of 2014 as there was for the Civil Rights Act fifty years ago.
I remain baffled that the Republican Party wants to be known as the party that is for discrimination against a sizeable segment of the U.S. population.


  1. The first response this morning was from Thinking Friend Dan O'Reagan in Louisiana. He wrote,

    "Your older African-American was right in saying that deviant sexual behavior is not a civil right.

    "In the light of 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, and Galatians 5:19-22, I wonder if God will be charged with discrimination when he says perverts cannot come into heaven."

    1. Two quick responses to Dan's comments:

      If it is all right to discriminate against gays/lesbians on the basis of those Bible passages, should employers also be allowed to fire (or not hire) people because they are adulterers, or idolaters, etc.?

      Also, as I explain on pp. 245-6 of my book "Fed Up with Fundamentalism," the word sometimes translated as "homosexuals" (for the first time in 1946) in I Cor. 6:9 most likely is referring to men's use of boys for sexual pleasure. Luther translated the Greek word into the English equivalent of "child abusers." Thus, this passage most probably is not referring to consensual sex between adults.

    2. Oh, one more thing. My older African-American student was not particularly against gay/lesbian rights. She just thought they should not be called "civil rights."

      Further, she did not use the word "deviant"--a word that is pejorative, judgmental, and discriminatory.

  2. Thinking Friend Glenn Hinson in Kentucky shares these comments:

    "Thanks for reminding us that discrimination still takes place in America, Leroy. Not only does that happen, but some legislators and jurists work hard to keep it in place."

  3. A most informative posting Leroy. Discrimination is alive and well today, especially among those who follow the one who sat with all sorts of sinners and people of irrepute. I heard a Christian say once that his discrimination was justified because even God/Christ discriminates against those who don't choose to follow him. He tried to argue that those who will go to hell will be victims of justifiable discrimination. This is a twisted world we live in. And the Supreme Court's ruling this morning gives some evidence of that.

    On a happier note, birthday blessings to June!

  4. This is a well-stated column, Leroy. I suspect your first response from the friend in Louisiana is precisely correct, that "deviant sexual behavior is not a civil right"; however, not being discriminated against in the job and consumer market for personal characteristics that have nothing to do with the ability to do a job or pay one's way is probably what we do mean by civil rights.

    Furthermore, you're quite right that applying selective biblical scriptures to specific issues of civil rights is problematic. The Hebrew scriptures, the Vedas, the Laws of Manu, and the Qur'an also have strictures of various kinds. We have many Jews, Hindus, and Muslims living in America. Do they get to apply their favored scriptural strictures to American law as well?

  5. Well, the Supreme Court just ruled that closely held corporations can religiously discriminate against their employees, at least in the form of health insurance allowed. I predict lots of law suits ahead as the scope of this new right is explored. Of course, some observers have also predicted that puncturing the wall between owners and corporations could have disastrous results in bankruptcy and liability suits, as the assets of the corporation and the close owners may become erased in some cases. Or it may just be another example of the other golden rule: Those who have the gold make the rules!

    As is often said (and attributed to various sources), "The price of freedom is eternal vigilance." People who say that it does not matter who gets elected should notice that at the very least this has a huge effect on whose rights get protected by the Supreme Court. Since we live in a country where many people do not know how judges are appointed, or even who controls the House, Senate and White House, this is very much an uphill struggle in America.

  6. I don't have a citation and can't vouch for it, but someone I trusted told me that "sex" was added to the 1964 Civil Rights Act by conservatives who wanted to quash it and reasoned that surely people wouldn't vote to give women equal rights.

    Today's supreme court ruling sets us back again.

    What do you bet there won't be any corporate proscriptions issued against Viagra on religious grounds? And yet, if certain corporations believe that God has dominion over the sexual act and its consequences, wouldn't that be appropriate?

  7. Thinking Friend Patrick Crews in Arizona wrote,

    "The argument is that a "deviant sexual behavior" isn't in the same category as a biological difference or variation.

    "But homosexuality is a biological variation. It's not merely some kinky sexual activity. It's about which sex you are inclined to be romantically involved with. Which sex pulls your heart strings. Which sex can dip your heart in liquid b nitrogen and hit it with a hammer!

    "It's a pity love is so despised that it must be justified only if it facilitates reproduction."

  8. There are some conservative Christians (who are most likely also Republicans) who are opposed to the President's upcoming order against discrimination.

    Here is the link to an article by Serene Jones, president of Union Theological Seminary in New York, calling on Christians not to discriminate: