New Battle for a Human Rights Ordinance in Jacksonville

August 6, 2013 71 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

"Who are we to to deny basic human rights to any person? When did it become acceptable to make basic liberties exclusive to only those we choose to grant them to?" Robert Montgomery weighs in on the new effort to pass a Human Rights Ordinance in Jacksonville

In 1964 then President Lyndon Baines Johnson enacted the Civil Rights Act in the hopes of expediting the civil and economic liberties of African Americans from a century of, often times, brutal oppression at the hands of whites all over the country. It was a small measure to attempt to right the wrongs of institutionalized apartheid that arguably has been a success in addressing the late Martin Luther King's hopes of a country judging a person not by the color of his skin but by the content of his, or her, character.

He made the decision to pass this legislation despite his own personal prejudices. It is a well documented fact that LBJ was a product of the “Old South” who used terms that are not acceptable in regular discourse today. However, Johnson passed the Act out of a deep seeded abhorrence to the mistreatment of the little guy, and saw it as a integral part of his “War on Poverty”.

Johnson acted above the interests of party, knowing that a valuable voting block would probably never vote for his Democratic Party for a generation – a fact that is all too clear when going back and reviewing the political history of the South since 1968. The South clearly began a slow creep towards the Republican Party during that time and especially since as infamous “State's Rights” speech in Philadelphia, Mississippi made by Ronald Reagan in 1980.  

But why did he do it? Why did he throw away a powerful voting block away like that? What was his motivation? Many on the right argue it was just to trade the southern white vote for the African-American vote but they would be incorrect. Lyndon Baines Johnson acted as any progressive would in that situation including Harry Truman who ignited the ire of J. Strom Thurmond, then a Democrat in 1952, into organizing the “Dixiecrats” to challenge Truman over desegregation. It was a question of seeking to attain the goal of a morality higher than one's self.

Last year the Jacksonville City Council had an opportunity to act in that same capacity. On the table was a piece of legislation called Ordinance 2012-296 better known as the “Human Rights Ordinance”. In the proposed ordinance was language calling for ethical and fair treatment of our LGBT Community when it came to housing and employment. The current wording of the ordinance calls for, in so many words, calls for the equal opportunity and fair treatment of people irregardless of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, marital status, pregnancy, or ancestry.

The Human Rights Commission also seeks to promote mutual understanding and respect among all racial, ethnic, and religious groups which includes ending discrimination and antagonism between them as well. In short the intentions of the Human Rights Commission is to attempt to expand liberty – civil and economic – by seeking to minimize discrimination in seeking opportunity and by insisting on a decorum often not taught to some people at home.

So why is this important? Shouldn't I be allowed to discriminate? Why can't I decide who I can rent my apartment to or hire to work for my company? It is important in a free society for all to support the civil and economic liberty of all. We all pay for the infrastructure of our society that supports the dynamic of economy and property. We all pay for the institutions that legitimize and enforce the ideal of private property. Also, we all support rights and freedoms that granted to our society in the United States Constitution. Hence if you wish to wish to worship your creator in any church, own a gun, or anything other legal activity, you are free to do so and, although I may not approve of how you conduct your affairs, we are obliged to respect the fact that that right exists in accordance with the 9th Amendment.

Yet despite the fact that in our constitution it states that although we are given certain rights we shouldn't construe them in order to deny, or disparage, rights retained by the people. In this particular case a group of people demanded their rights to be respected as any other group of people and the City of Jacksonville voted 17 to 2 that this group's liberties would not be protected by ordinance. And at this any citizen of Jacksonville should be outraged. Why is it that we will seek to protect any group from discrimination but not our gay community? Don't they have a right to earn a living, express themselves freely, or rent an apartment without fear of reprisal for their lifestyle? Who are we to to deny basic human rights to any person? When did it become acceptable to make basic liberties exclusive to only those we choose to grant them to.

Much of the objections to amending the Human Rights Ordinance came from people who were from our Christian Community. A Mr. Vaughn stated that “We are all pleased and give glory and praise to God”. He continued by saying, “It is time that Christians and the body of Christ stand up. This ordinance had a great deal of support from a minority, special interest group, and the overwhelming majority of the Christian community throughout this county has stayed silent. I’m pleased that council voted according to its conscience and that shows the conscience of Jacksonville.” City Councilperson, Clay Yarborough also give praise and thanks to Jesus for the resulting vote blessing the council for its actions. In fact every major church in Jacksonville praised the decision which they saw as a reaffirmation of their religious beliefs.

Yet in all the praising and banter one of the Beatitudes stands out; “ Blessed are the peacemakers, for they are the children of God”. For a commission created to be a “peacemaker”, where were the peacemakers that day in August of 2012? They were out in the streets, waiting by the television for an answer, sitting in churches, without a doubt they were everywhere in Jacksonville; but only two of them were on the City Council.

There is a new fight to correct this mistake made by city leaders last year. Many small progressive groups, including Occupy Jacksonville, are going to move forward in the hopes of protecting rights of all and expanding liberty in the city regardless of sexual orientation or background. Learning from the mistake of assuming that our representatives are going to act in the best interest of all it is hoped that this new fight will be taken to the public, home by home, creating awareness explaining why a new proposed Human Rights Ordinance is important and why everyone in the city has a vested interest in the expansion and protection of the civil liberties of all. Hopefully this time religious conservatives in the city will consult the teachings of Jesus in the Beatitudes before they make a snap judgement to be against it.

Robert Montgomery