Printed on: December 13, 2012

Traveling the arc of history

David Adler
Local columnist

Idaho Falls' elected officials should embrace the opportunity to protect the civil rights of a minority population, writes David Adler.

The duty of government -- at any level -- to protect the health, welfare and safety of its citizenry, a responsibility that can be performed in many ways, from providing for the common defense to establishing public education, also includes protection of our civil rights and liberties.

Some of the greatest achievements in American history reflect governmental efforts to protect and expand our liberties. Congress, at the instigation of President Abraham Lincoln, proposed the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery. Years later, Congress proposed an amendment to the Constitution that guaranteed women the right to vote. The Supreme Court struck the chains of segregation and championed freedom of speech and freedom of religion. For many of us, government is at its best when it secures the blessings of liberty and expands freedoms for all Americans.

This morning, the Idaho Falls City Council will have the opportunity to set foot on that historical path when Councilwoman Sharon Parry introduces an anti-discrimination ordinance, designed to protect gays and lesbians from being fired from their jobs or denied housing, for reasons of sexual orientation or gender identity. If it eventually adopts the measure, as it should, Idaho Falls will join other cities in Idaho and Utah that have enacted similar measures.

A year ago, Sandpoint led the way in Idaho when it passed an anti-discrimination ordinance. That measure reflected an ordinance adopted by the Salt Lake City Council that won the blessing and active support of the LDS church. Nearly 20 cities in Utah have since enacted anti-discrimination measures. A week ago, Boise unanimously adopted one. Pocatello and Ketchum are reviewing similar ordinances.

All of this activity -- acts of leadership in pursuit of fairness and equality -- reflect a bipartisan political effort and religions of many beliefs. In this day and age, no citizen should be threatened with his or her job or denied, as LDS spokesmen have said, a "roof over their heads," because of their sexual orientation or identity.

The themes of fairness and equality, aspirations of our Constitution and republic, while occasionally stymied by the forces of prejudice, tend to win out over the long haul. When the time has been right, our better angels have prevailed and the great cause of human rights and human dignity has been thrust onto the arc of history, which Martin Luther King observed, "bends toward justice." 

As the men and women who serve on the Idaho Falls City Council contemplate adoption of an anti-discrimination ordinance, they would be wise to recall the courage and wisdom of those in America who, having committed themselves to the principles of fairness and justice, have traveled the arc of history.

Adler is the Cecil D. Andrus professor of public affairs at Boise State University, where he serves as director of the Andrus Center for Public Policy. He has lectured nationally and internationally on the Constitution, the presidency and the Bill of Rights.