The Silent "E"
Justice for ALL -- No Exceptions

This great nation, the United States of America, has a rich history of proud ideals using words loaded with God’s gifts to human kind. 

The Constitution:
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Declaration of Independence:
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.

The Pledge of Allegiance:
In its original form it read:  I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."

Today it reads:  "I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."

Please note that in these inspiring words we do NOT find exclusionary phrases.  We do not find the words “except for” anywhere. 

Justice is for everybody.  If you are in the United States zone of sovereignty you are a part of us and you share our rights.  Any visitor, any human, no matter who or what or where from is due JUSTICE.  White, brown, black, red, yellow or grey, it makes no difference.  Christian, Moslem, Jew, Buddhist, Taoist, Zoroastrian, Pagan, agnostic, atheist, ALL are entitled to freedom to worship and JUSTICE. 

And yet…….and yet these beautiful words are, in Robert Burns’ words, oft’n gang a-gley”.  And how so?  It is that the “except” is silent!  In reality, the word "Justice" has a silent "e".  Justice is eluded, not so much in the commission of injustice; but in the omission of justice.

Before we carry too much farther on this topic, let’s try to get to a common understanding of what justice IS.  Words all mean different things to different people.  Remember when President Clinton was forced to say, “that depends on what the meaning of ‘is’ is.”  So, let’s see what you believe justice is.

//congregation input//

And from the dictionaries:
General:  The quality of being righteous or fair.
Philosophers, theologians: the proper ordering of people and things. Behind the concept of justice lies the notion of balance--that people get what is right, fair and appropriate.
Law:  The notion of upholding the law, as in the work of police, judges and the court.

Hear how the words, “right”, “fair”, “balance”,  and “equality” are so important to our concept of justice?  And yet…..and yet, here we are back to that “silent ‘except’” thought again. 

In the 1800’s the “silent except” applied to slaves and indigenous Americans; but of course, they weren’t REALLY people, they were only a few days up from savages.  On our west coast the Chinese, descendents of a civilization that was old when Moses led the children of Israel out of Egypt, weren’t REALLY human.  After all, look how little they valued life.  So, justice for all "except for" people who were not white.

In the 1900’s women were just there to serve their men and raise their children.  After all, what did women know about politics, why many of them couldn’t even read.  Why should they want to vote, for God’s sake?  So, justice for all except for poor, ignorant women who really belonged in the home in the kitchen and bedroom.

And in the 1960’s here came those black people again, hardly any of them able to even earn a living and THEY started clamoring to get to vote, get to go to our schools, they even wanted to sit up front in the bus!  So, justice for all "except for" people who couldn’t pass the literacy tests or pay the poll tax and who had lived in neighborhoods with schools that didn’t teach them the skills needed for success. 

Slowly, painfully, even violently these silent exceptions were beaten back.  Not because of some great epiphany of American conscience; but because individuals stood up and demanded justice.  Real Justice, without a "silent e."Nat Turner, Frederick Douglas, Louisa May Alcott, Susan B. Anthony, Rosa Parks, Dr. Martin Luther King, jr.  The list goes on and on, people fictional and real, took a stand on principle and stood fast and tall until the job was done.  JUSTICE FOR ALL - NO EXCEPTIONS!

The right of a free people to be treated with respect.  JUSTICE!

The right of every individual to be unimpeded in pursuing their talents to the fullest.  JUSTICE!

The right of every person in this country to have the full benefits of the law.  Equal JUSTICE!

And who lacks this justice today?  Who is still bearing the burden of the “silent except”?
Who among us are yet to be freed from the yoke of being second class citizens?  Who are those who are abiding by the law, contributing to our culture and economy, paying their share of our tax burdens yet still have the boots of bigotry grinding their necks into the soil of discrimination?  This question is something we should queue up and ask often, maybe not daily; but often enough and with enough seriousness that we really gather our minds to gather and work through it as a serious issue. 

When I was a lot younger, back in the days of NOW and Women’s Lib and Betty Friedan,  I was amazed at how ignorant I had been about the issue of  the "glass ceiling”, the lack of  “equal pay for equal work”, the fact that women were thought of only in clerical or support jobs.  You know, black people cleaned the floors and women made the coffee and typed the letters.  When Betty and I were married she was a Lieutenant in the Navy.  I couldn’t be her dependent because SHE was my wife.  I couldn’t have commissary and post exchange privileges, but if our roles were reversed and I were in the Navy she, of course, would have full access including medical care.   There was a good side though:  they couldn’t send her to sea.  When she got pregnant (see how that is phrased?  SHE GOT pregnant) she could no longer remain an Officer on active duty.  My GOD!  A pregnant Navy Officer!  Admiral Perry would be rolling in his grave!

Today, of course, all that is history.  It’s all fixed now, or really it all has been concealed under heavy coats of apparent equality and women are on ships, there are even a few ships COMMANDED by women.  No really big, important ships though;  you know  women just can’t handle the really he-man hard stuff.  

So now let's think about who is still suffering from "Justice with the silent e."  There is yet an entire class of people who are marginalized, intentionally marginalized by the laws of our governments at all levels.  Who are they?  They are those among us who are “different”, people who identify the sexual aspects of their personality differently from the heterosexual majority.  Isn’t it about time we recognized that JUSTICE FOR ALL has no exceptions?

We must not joke about it, because  to those who fear being chastised for being the person they really are this is no laughing matter.  In this culture, Mississippi and the south, being gay can be dangerous and that my friends is something we must stand up and remedy.  Those who prudently can take a public position in favor of Justice for ALL should do that as a matter of moral principle.  Many cannot do that for fear of their jobs, status in the community or being cast out of important parts of their lives.  Yet, even those good people can, and should,  take a quiet stance. Express discomfort when justice is being denied to any one.  When jokes are made about GLBT people or behavior, be displeased openly about it.  And as to the law, let your elected representatives at ALL levels know that you are asking:  Why should GLBT people who love each other not be allowed to have all the legal privileges of marriage, property holding rights, insurance coverage, medical decisions and other benefits of the law? 

If we really mean Justice for ALL, let’s make it so.  In this country of freedom it is our right and our moral duty.


Bob Spencer
Tupelo, Mississippi

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