Fairness Is Everyone’s Business
Last week the Employment and Housing Non-Discrimination Act was introduced in both houses of the West Virginia State Legislature. If passed the bill would expand current protections against discrimination based on race, gender and religion, to include sexual orientation and gender identity and age. The Religious Action Center has partnered with Fairness West Virginia to engage a number of Reform rabbis in the state, including Rabbi James Cohn at Temple Israel in Charleston. Rabbi Cohn joined Reverend Mel Hoover and Reverend Rose Edington in the following Op-Ed, published in the Charleston Gazette on Monday March 10:
Hard work doesn’t discriminate.
We believe, as most West Virginians believe, that citizens in our state should face a level playing field in looking for, and keeping, a job or a house. No one should be fired or denied housing because of the person’s race, color, national origin, sex, age, physical or mental disability, pregnancy, genetic background, HIV/AIDS, military status or political affiliation.
The people of West Virginia believe in this principle so strongly, that for years there have been laws in our state against such discrimination. We believe the time has come for our leaders to widen these protections to include sexual orientation and gender identity.
It would be wonderful if such measures weren’t needed. But the sad history of our country and our state proves otherwise. Anti-discrimination laws were enacted because minorities cannot protect themselves alone. They need a community that is committed to equality and fairness, not just as a matter of principle, but as a matter of law.
There are some who worry that anti-discrimination laws can be misused. This is true; all laws can be abused. For example, in murder trials, some accused murderers misuse the “self-defense justification.” But who among us would seriously suggest that because of this occasional misuse by unlawful people, the remedy should not be available to protect the lawful?
Some have opposed an inclusive approach to anti-discrimination laws because it takes us down a “slippery slope.” But the slippery slope argument can be used as an excuse not to take action in the face of every needed change.
The trouble is, the slippery slope can apply to every possible action, from the greatest to the smallest. In some ways, politics are a slippery slope. Ethics are a slippery slope. The Bill of Rights is a slippery slope. Getting out of bed in the morning is a slippery slope. All of these can lead to unintended consequences. But all of them are necessary to live in the real world.
Carl Sandburg, when asked for the most detestable word in the English language, crisply replied: “exclusive.”
“When you’re exclusive,” Sandburg said, “you shut out a more or less large range of humanity from your mind and heart — from your understanding of them.”
West Virginians believe in fairness. West Virginians want our state to be inclusive. Because hard work doesn’t discriminate.
Learn about House Bill 2856, also known as the Employment and Housing Non-Discrimination Act, at fairnesswv.org.
Cohn is Rabbi of Temple Israel. Hoover and Edington are co-ministers of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation. Both congregations are members of Fairness West Virginia’s coalition of faith-community support.