In America, the promise of equal treatment under the law is not supposed to be some lofty objective that we hope to achieve one day. Equality was declared some 236 years ago to be a self-evident truth and one of the basic founding principles of a new nation -- despite the existence of slavery and decidedly unequal rights for women at the time.
Over the years, of course, significant strides have been made against discrimination based on race, gender, ethnicity, national origin, religion, age, disability and sexual orientation. Yet today, when it comes to equal justice, the question must be asked: are we there yet?
"Realizing the Dream: Equality for All" is the national Law Day theme for 2013, as we mark the 150th anniversary of the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation by President Abraham Lincoln and the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have A Dream" speech in front of the Lincoln Memorial.
We should use Law Day, May 1, as an opportunity to explore the movement for civil and human rights in America and the impact that it has had in promoting the idea of equality under the law. We should also reflect on the work that remains to be done in rectifying injustice, eliminating all forms of discrimination and putting an end to human trafficking and other violations of basic human rights. As Dr. King pointed out in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."
I often wonder whether I would have had the courage of Dr. King, U.S. Rep. John Lewis and other progressive Americans who stood up against racial inequality had I been an adult during the Civil Rights Movement. I like to think I would have been right there alongside the Freedom Riders, or walking across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, but admittedly it is daunting to consider risking one's life for something you believe in. I like to think I would have done that.
One of the most important social justice issues that presents itself to me now in my career is that of equality regardless of sexual orientation, and I will continue to fight for social justice for all until that dream is realized.
Each year, the State Bar of Georgia's Committee on Professionalism reaches out to the bar associations across the state to encourage them to participate actively in Law Day by hosting an event which engages the public on the rule of law and the importance of a strong judicial branch of government.
A special celebration of Law Day 2013 took place Monday as the State Bar partnered with a number of local and specialty bar associations and the National Center for Civil and Human Rights to host a day-long educational event at our Bar Center headquarters in downtown Atlanta. Featured panelists included Ambassador Andrew Young, U.S. Attorney Sally Quillian Yates and many other civil rights leaders, state legislators and legal experts.
The program was aimed specifically at making the connection between the American civil rights movement and the principles of human rights while providing an in-depth look at human rights violations that still exist at home and abroad, including juvenile justice violations, the use of torture, environmental abuses and the trafficking of an estimated 1 million people worldwide each year into involuntary servitude and sexual slavery. We can end such injustices only after acknowledging they exist.
As Dr. King said, "the Arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice." This is comforting to keep in mind, but we must remain vigilant, especially when there are still "whites only" proms in Georgia and when some people still believe they have a monopoly on morality and the right to be married to the one they love merely because they were born heterosexual. The promise of equality under the law is what has made America a beacon to other nations. Fulfilling that promise -- by promoting the cause of justice, upholding the rule of law and protecting the rights of all citizens -- remains a work in progress.
Robin Frazer Clark, president, State Bar of Georgia; www.gabar.org.