Thursday, October 11, 2012

Affirmative Action and the Moral Arc of the Universe

13Happy are those who find wisdom,
and those who get understanding,
14for her income is better than silver,
and her revenue better than gold.
15She is more precious than jewels,
and nothing you desire can compare with her.
16Long life is in her right hand;
in her left hand are riches and honor.
17Her ways are ways of pleasantness,
and all her paths are peace.
18She is a tree of life to those who lay hold of her;
those who hold her fast are called happy.

Proverbs 3:13-18

The Supreme Court is presently considering a case about affirmative action, “Fisher v. the University of Texas at Austin.” Abigail Fisher claims that the University of Texas denied her admission because she is white. She claims that minority students were admitted whose applications were otherwise less accomplished than hers. The University is arguing that race is only one factor they consider in admissions and that they have a compelling interest in having a diverse student body. Although I don’t believe it is part of their argument before the court, the school also maintains that Ms. Fisher would not have been admitted even if race were not considered.

Affirmative action is no longer a government mandate. It is a voluntary program initiatied by many institutions because they believe their mission can better be fulfilled by enlarging opportunities for historically disfavored groups.

The Court has been clear that is unconstitutional to exclude minorities because of their race. The question before the Court is whether it is constitutional to implement a race-conscious program in order to increase the opportunities of minorities.

I think we can be reasonably certain that the framers of the constitution would have been against any racial preference that increased the opportunities for minorities. They were in favor of slavery. They would have been against the Fourteenth Amendment and they certainly would not have extended the equal protection clause to include affirmative action. Similarly, it is hard to believe that the majority voting for the Civil Rights Act of 1866 would have held together to approve the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

I am not a lawyer and I won’t pretend to understand the legal technicalities. A ruling in favor of Ms. Fisher seems likely, and several of the justices are already on record against any form of “race consciousness.” Unfortunately, this will turn back the clock on diversity and move us away from a more inclusive society.

As Christians, one of our fundamental beliefs is that God works in history. In the long run, we are moving toward the Kingdom of God. In the imagery of the abolitionist preacher Theodore Parker, popularized by the greatest preacher of the Civil Rights movement, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

If the program at the University of Texas at Austin is declared unconstitutional, the arc will get a little longer and our task will become a little more difficult.

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