Minority status people are like the canary in a coal mine in free societies. The analogy refers to the old practice of using the small birds as early indicators of toxic gases that might be present in coal mines. If the high-metabolism bird died, the workers would see that as a warning and leave the mine quickly to the safety of fresh air.
Those of us belonging to minority status and our majority status allies have witnessed the alarming rollback of civil rights and civil liberties in the United States and much of the rest of the world during the past few years. This seems to be happening more frequently and with greater impact.
Take the the wedding cake case in Colorado. David Mullins and Charlie Craig wanted to order a cake for their wedding reception. The Lakewood bakery refused to sell them a wedding cake. After a long, contentious legal battle, a Colorado judge determined the bakery unlawfully discriminated against the couple.
The bakery appealed the decision and the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the decision of the lower court. It said that not selling the cake did not violate Colorado’s anti-discrimination statute. The Supreme Court voted 7-2 that the baker’s religious freedom rights were violated under the First Amendment. The decision was ambiguous in that it did not decide the larger issue as to whether or not any business can use religious beliefs or so-called religious freedom as an excuse to deny service to LGBT people.
This decision has encouraged more diverse businesses to legally or otherwise willfully discriminate against LGBT people. Those who have been discriminated against usually do not have the time and resources necessary to contest discrimination.
This has encouraged some realtors to deny housing sales and renting to LGBT people. This is easy to do because it is still perfectly legal in most states in the U.S. to discriminate against gay people. For example, even though a same-sex couple lawfully marries, a landlord can legally kick the couple out of their home or a bank can deny providing a mortgage to them based only on their sexual orientation.
This is true in the job market, too. In most states, employers can fire LGBT workers for no other reason than the employees are LGBT.
In the nation at large, regarding the basic civil freedom to vote, the Supreme Court rolled back key components of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 in a 2013 decision. This happened despite the fact that there has not been sufficient time to eliminate voter discrimination in some parts of the country. Meantime, the rest of the Voting Rights Act remains unfulfilled and its very existence is under threat.
These examples are very large canaries in the coal mine of our society. While they may seem only to be germane to the affected minorities, majority status citizens will be wise to see the threat this poses to the nation at large.
Seemingly out of the blue, a judge in Wisconsin ordered that state to remove 234,000 people from voter rolls. This was part of a larger pattern of disenfranchisement. The Brennan Center for Justice states that more than 17,000,000 were purged between 2016 and 2018. This situation adds to ongoing voter suppression caused by gerrymandering and voter picture ID advocacy.
We need look no further than the tidal wave of disinformation, misinformation, partisan news networks, and the insidious nature of social media that weakens civility, truth, and democracy itself. Cruelty and heated emotions have become features, not bugs of current political discourse and activity.
The canaries in the coal mine of democracy are dying. It is up to all of us to safeguard our treasured freedoms and liberties and ensure that they apply in equal measure to all. To guarantee individual liberty, the fresh air of freedom and liberty must apply to everyone.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes the late Congressman from Maryland, Elijah Cummings. “It was to carry the American democratic journey beyond these failings that Black citizens and civil rights workers risked unemployment, violence, and death.”