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Equal citizenry under the 14th Amendment

In Economy, Education, Opinion, Politics, psychology, Religion, sociology, Uncategorized on January 22, 2013 at 7:04 pm

14thAmDeer In Headlines

By Gery L. Deer

With a single sentence early in the text of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson established the concept of human equality in a fledgling country. “We hold these truths to be self-evident,” Jefferson famously penned, “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.”

Ironically, many of the men who signed the final version of the document were slave owners, with no acknowledgement of the hypocrisy they were about to go to war to protect. It took more than a century after John Hancock applied his prominent penmanship to the parchment to bring about a law that would provide the basis for the ultimate guarantee of a free and equal society.  But it didn’t exactly work out that way.

Passed on July 9, 1868, the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, in theory, sets equal status for each citizen. The wording clearly recognizes “citizens” as having either been born within the country or naturalized and goes on to grant equal privileges to each with no specifically stated restrictions based on gender, ethnicity, economic status, sexual preference or anything else.

At the time it was written, America was still experiencing shell shock following the Civil War, and it would be some time before full enforcement of the 14th would be widespread. Early on, even the government seemed to be choosing to ignore its own laws wherever it pleased to do so. A large part of the virtual annihilation of the Native American populations within the United States took place after the 14th was passed.

This legislation should have immediately equalized anyone born in the country, regardless of gender or race. But this was rarely the case. Some whites, particularly in the south, rejected the concept of overall equality. Racism and general prejudice ran high throughout the region, becoming violent on far too many occasions.

For those situations not expressly dealt with under the 14th, supplemental legislation has had to be passed to address those issues. But some people are offended that any subsequent legislation is required to enforce those “unalienable rights” already granted by the Constitution.  In their eyes, doing so only serves to solidify the idea that anyone other than the able-bodied, white male was somehow inferior and now needed ‘special’ legal considerations.

Sublime in their fortitude and thirst for liberty, America’s Founding Fathers are quoted by academics, politicians, world figureheads and even religious leaders. But in many ways that honorarium is less deserved because of staggering moral shortsightedness by not extending basic civil rights to everyone. Such a simple act in the beginning may have upended the economy of the new country, but it might also have helped preempt two hundred years of prejudice, war and bloodshed.

In the end, all rights are ‘civil,’ established and enforced by duly elected representatives of the people. Even with the country so divided over these issues, the government still has a chance to enforce the original purpose of the 14th Amendment.

People are always going to be frightened of change. But the opportunity remains to squelch old prejudice and make sure that all men, all citizens, are equal under the law no matter the color of their skin, to which god they pray, or whom they choose to marry.

It may be that no more laws need to be created. Each citizen is already endowed with the rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; not as much by their creator, as the 14th Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America. If it really is the Supreme Law of the Land, it needs to be applied that way. If it doesn’t happen soon, Jefferson’s goal of an equal citizenry will never be much more than a pipe dream.