- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 1, 2003

This July Fourth will mark the 227th anniversary of America’s quest to realize the dominant ideal of our Declaration of Independence: “All men are created equal.” The Supreme Court’s decisions regarding the University of Michigan’s racial preferences admissions policies give us reason to reflect on the history of that quest. Our progress has been very real, yet very difficult.

Slavery, the greatest stain on this nation’s fledgling years, threatened equality from the start. After 600,000 men and one president died to end it, in 1868 this country ratified the 14th Amendment, which stated in part, “No state shall … deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

Nearly 100 years later, with full equality between the races still not a reality, we passed the Civil Rights Act to guarantee equality under the law for those who still didn’t receive it. That Act read, “No person in the United States shall, on the ground of race, color, or national origin, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.” The University of Michigan being, like virtually all institutions of higher learning, a beneficiary of federal money, the law and its application would seem to be clear.

But the Supreme Court has now demoted the concept of equality under the law in favor of a concept with a much cheaper pedigree: “diversity.” Although no American ever fought or died to promote it, and few can even define it, our robed masters in Washington have declared that equality under the law must be balanced with “a compelling interest” in attaining “diversity.”

“Diversity.” Such an innocuous, pleasant-sounding idea. Who could be against it?

But “diversity” is an empty vessel of a word, begging to be filled with meaning by the listener. To many, it means students of all colors and backgrounds will populate our nations’ universities in harmony. All fair and reasonable people applaud that. To the academic elites, “diversity” means a license to discriminate to achieve the “critical mass” objectives that reside solely in their minds.

As a Regent of the University of California for more than a decade, of one thing I am certain: the building of “diversity” at virtually every select university means preferential treatment has to be doled out according to race. All “races” are equal, but some are more equal than others.

As tragic as this ruling is, there’s still great reason for hope. One bad judgment can’t erase centuries of progress. America is a great nation where the overwhelming majority of its people still believe in equality under the law. Even better, the liberty enshrined in the Declaration of Independence — the document we celebrate every July Fourth — guarantees the right of the people to organize and impose their political will on their government. Our successful fights in California and Washington state to ban racial preferences, despite vociferous opposition from many political elites, are proof of this fact.

Our Declaration of Independence outlines a civic structure to guide and regulate the relationship between the people of America and their government as well as with each other. Throughout the centuries, the character and the ideals of the American people have been heavily influenced by the words in that document. Embedded within it is the essence of America’s definition of itself: its commitment to freedom, its belief in a Creator, its proclamation of unalienable rights endowed by that Creator, its dedication to absolute “truths,” and, significantly, its devotion to the creed of equality.

More powerful than any law, executive order or court decision is the culture of equality fashioned by the words to be found in that Declaration. It is that culture of equality — a belief that all Americans are not only equal in the eyes of God but equal in the eyes of the government — that binds us and unites us as one people “indivisible.” Should a significant segment of the people lose faith in the principles contained in the document that represents the social contract we have with each other, that culture of equality will erode and America will cease to be a nation that promises and delivers “liberty and justice for all.”

It is not the law that unites people; it is trust. Friendships are forged, marriages are sustained, currencies are valued, and governments survive on the basis of trust. The Court’s UM decisions tear at our sense of trust in our government.

The time for America to break free from its obsession with classifying and dividing her citizens by “race” has come. And the popular revolt will begin in the state of Michigan where a national effort must be mounted to prohibit the university and all other entities of government from discriminating against or granting preferential treatment to any American citizen because of “race,” ethnic background, sex or national origin. It must begin in California where Americans are blending at an astounding rate and defy the rigid categories of “race” imposed by the government. And the battle must be waged in every other state where the people have the right to petition their government and to enact laws through such a process. We must strain every sinew and muster every ounce of courage to negate this unjust decision.

Let us declare anew our devotion to equal treatment and defend that principle against those — even the Supreme Court of the United States — who would deprive us of it.

Ward Connerly is the founder and chairman of the American Civil Rights Institute and the author of the autobiography “Creating Equal: My Fight Against Race Preferences.”

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