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Comparto esta nota de la historidora Heather Cox Richardson conmemorando los 56 años de la firma de la Voting Rights Act. Cox Richardson hace un excelente recuento del proceso que llevó a  la firma de esta histórica ley y de las amenazas actuales al derecho al voto de las minorías en Estados Unidos y, por ende, a la democracia estadounidense.

La Dr. Cox Richardson trabaja en Boston College y es autora, entre otros libros,   de To Make Men Free: A History of the Republican Party (2014). Es la creadora de una popular columna diara, Letters from America, analizando desde una perspectiva histórica la situación política y social estadounidense.


It Is Time to Update the Voting Rights Act - Center for American Progress

Letters from America  

Heather Cox Richardson

6 de agosto de 2021

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript - Lyceum continues with Heather Cox Richardson  on Sunday

Heather Cox Richardson

Hace hoy cincuenta y seis años, el 6 de agosto de 1965, el presidente Lyndon B. Johnson firmó la Ley de Derecho al Voto. La necesidad de la ley se explicó en su título completo: «Una ley para hacer cumplir la decimoquinta enmienda a la Constitución, y para otros fines».

A raíz de la Guerra Civil, los estadounidenses trataron de crear una nueva nación en la que la ley tratara a los hombres negros y a los hombres blancos como iguales. En 1865, ratificaron la Decimotercera Enmienda a la Constitución, prohibiendo la esclavitud excepto como castigo por crímenes. En 1868, ajustaron la Constitución de nuevo, garantizando que cualquier persona nacida o naturalizada en los Estados Unidos, excepto ciertos indígenas americanos, era un ciudadano, abriendo el sufragio a los hombres negros. En 1870, después de que los legisladores de Georgia expulsaran a sus colegas negros recién sentados, los estadounidenses defendieron el derecho de los hombres negros a votar añadiendo ese derecho a la Constitución.

Las tres enmiendas —la Decimotercera, La Decimocuarta y la Decimoquinta— le dieron al Congreso el poder de hacerlas cumplir. En 1870, el Congreso estableció el Departamento de Justicia para hacer precisamente eso. Los sureños blancos reaccionarios habían estado usando las leyes estatales, y la falta de voluntad de los jueces y jurados estatales para proteger a los estadounidenses negros de las pandillas blancas y los empleadores tramposos, para mantener a los negros subordinados. Los hombres blancos se organizaron como el Ku Klux Klan para aterrorizar a los hombres negros y evitar que ellos y sus aliados blancos votaran para cambiar ese sistema. En 1870, el gobierno federal intervino para proteger los derechos de los negros y procesar a los miembros del Ku Klux Klan.

Ciudadanía por nacimiento: qué es la enmienda 14 de la Constitución de  Estados Unidos (y cuán posible es que Trump acabe con ella) - BBC News Mundo

Con el poder federal ahora detrás de la protección constitucional de la igualdad, amenazando con la cárcel para aquellos que violaron la ley, los opositores blancos del voto negro cambiaron su argumento en contra.

En 1871, comenzaron a decir que no tenían ningún problema con que los hombres negros votaran por motivos raciales; su objeción al voto negro era que los hombres negros, sólo por esclavitud, eran pobres e incultos. Estaban votando por legisladores que les prometían servicios públicos como carreteras y escuelas, y que solo se podían pagar con impuestos.

La idea de que los votantes negros eran socialistas —de hecho, usaron ese término en 1871— significó que los norteños blancos que habían luchado para reemplazar la sociedad jerárquica del Viejo Sur con una sociedad basada en la igualdad comenzaron a cambiar su tono. Miraron hacia otro lado, ya que los hombres blancos impedieron que los hombres negros votaran, primero con el terrorismo y luego con las leyes electorales estatales que usaban cláusulas de abuelo, que recortaban a los hombres negros sin mencionar la raza al permitir que un hombre votara si su abuelo lo había hecho; pruebas de alfabetización en las que los registradores blancos pueden decidir quién aprueba; los impuestos electorales; y así sucesivamente. Los estados también redujeron los distritos de manera desigual para favorecer a los demócratas, que dirigían un partido segregacionista totalmente blanco. En 1880 el Sur era sólidamente demócrata, y lo seguiría siendo hasta 1964.

Los estados del sur siempre celebraron elecciones: solo se había previsto que los demócratas las ganarían.

Merrell R. Bennekin on Twitter: "U.S. adopts 15th Amendment, March 30, 1870  Following its ratification by the requisite three-fourths of the states,  the 15th Amendment, granting African-American men the right to vote,Los estadounidenses negros nunca aceptaron este estado de cosas, pero su oposición no ganó una poderosa atención nacional hasta después de la Segunda Guerra Mundial.

Durante esa guerra, los estadounidenses de todos los ámbitos de la vida habían enfocado en derrotar al fascismo, un sistema de gobierno basado en la idea de que algunas personas son mejores que otras. Los estadounidenses defendieron la democracia y, a pesar de todo lo que los estadounidenses negros lucharon en unidades segregadas, y que los disturbios raciales estallaron en ciudades de todo el país durante los años de guerra, y que el gobierno internó a los estadounidenses de origen japonés, los legisladores comenzaron a reconocer que la nación no podría definirse efectivamente como una democracia si las personas negras y marrones vivían en viviendas deficientes,  recibió una educación deficiente, no podía avanzar de los trabajos de poca importancia y no podía votar para cambiar ninguna de esas circunstancias.

Mientras tanto, los afroamericanos y las personas de color que habían luchado por la nación en el extranjero llevaron a casa su determinación de ser tratados por igual, especialmente a medida que el colapso financiero de los países europeos aflojó su control sobre sus antiguas colonias africanas y asiáticas, dando vida a nuevas naciones.

Thurgood Marshall (1908-1993) •

Thurgood Marshall

Aquellos interesados en promover los derechos de los negros recurrieron, una vez más, al gobierno federal para anular las leyes estatales discriminatorias. Estimulados por el abogado Thurgood Marshall, los jueces utilizaron la cláusula de debido proceso y la cláusula de igualdad de protección de la Decimocuarta Enmienda para argumentar que las protecciones en la Carta de Derechos se aplicaban a los estados, es decir, los estados no podían privar a ningún estadounidense de la igualdad. En 1954, la Corte Suprema bajo el presidente del Tribunal Supremo Earl Warren, el ex gobernador republicano de California, utilizó esta doctrina cuando dictó el caso Brown v. Decisión de la Junta de Educación que declara inconstitucionales las escuelas segregadas.

Los reaccionarios blancos respondieron con violencia, pero los afroamericanos continuaron defendiendo sus derechos. En 1957 y 1960, bajo la presión del presidente republicano Dwight Eisenhower, el Congreso aprobó leyes de derechos civiles diseñadas para facultar al gobierno federal para hacer cumplir las leyes que protegen el voto negro.

En 1961, el Comité Coordinador Estudiantil No Violento (SNCC) y el Consejo de Organizaciones Federadas (COFO) comenzaron esfuerzos intensivos para registrar a los votantes y organizar a las comunidades para apoyar el cambio político. Debido a que solo el 6,7% de los negros de Mississippi estaban registrados, MIssissippi se convirtió en un punto focal, y en el «Freedom Summer» de 1964, organizado bajo Bob Moses (quien falleció el 25 de julio de este año), los voluntarios se dispusieron a registrar a los votantes. El 21 de junio, miembros del Ku Klux Klan, al menos uno de los cuales era oficial de la ley, asesinaron a los organizadores James Chaney, Andrew Goodman y Michael Schwerner cerca de Filadelfia, Mississippi, y, cuando fueron descubiertos, se rieron de la idea de que serían castigados por los asesinatos.

Ese año, el Congreso aprobó la Ley de Derechos Civiles de 1964, que fortaleció los derechos de voto. El 7 de marzo de 1965, en Selma, Alabama, los manifestantes liderados por John Lewis (quien pasaría a servir 17 términos en el Congreso) se dirigieron a Montgomery para demostrar su deseo de votar. Los agentes del orden los detuvieron en el puente Edmund Pettus y los golpearon salvajemente.

El 15 de marzo, el presidente Johnson pidió al Congreso que aprobara una legislación que defendiera el derecho al voto de los estadounidenses. Así fue. Y en este día de 1965, la Ley del Derecho al Voto se convirtió en ley. Se convirtió en una parte tan fundamental de nuestro sistema legal que el Congreso lo reautorizó repetidamente, por amplios márgenes, tan recientemente como en 2006.

Pero en el 2013 en su decisión del caso Shelby County v. Holder, la Corte Suprema bajo el presidente del Tribunal Supremo John Roberts destripó la disposición de la ley que requiere que los estados con historiales de discriminación de votantes obtengan la aprobación del Departamento de Justicia antes de que cambien sus leyes de votación. Inmediatamente, las legislaturas de esos estados, ahora dominadas por los republicanos, comenzaron a aprobar medidas para suprimir el voto. Ahora, a raíz de las elecciones de 2020, los estados dominados por los republicanos han aumentado la tasa de supresión de votantes, y el 1 de julio de 2021, la Corte Suprema permitió dicha supresión con la decisión de Brnovich v. DNC.

1965 Voting Rights Act - A Brief History of Civil Rights in the United  States - HUSL Library at Howard University School of Law

Si se permite a los republicanos elegir quién votará en los estados, dominarán el país de la misma manera que los demócratas convirtieron el Sur en un estado de partido único después de la Guerra Civil. Alarmados por lo que equivaldrá a la pérdida de nuestra democracia, los demócratas están pidiendo que el gobierno federal proteja los derechos de voto.

Y, sin embargo, 2020 dejó muy claro que si los republicanos no pueden impedir que los demócratas voten, no podrán ganar las elecciones. Y así, los republicanos están insistiendo en que los estados por sí solos pueden determinar quién puede votar y que cualquier legislación federal es una extralimitación tiránica. Una encuesta reciente de Pew muestra que más de dos tercios de los votantes republicanos no creen que votar sea un derecho y creen que se puede limitar.

Y entonces, aquí estamos, en una crisis existencial sobre los derechos de voto y si son los estados o el gobierno federal los que deben decidirlos.

June 25, 2013 – The Supreme Court Decides Shelby County v. Holder | Legal  Legacy

En este momento, hay dos importantes proyectos de ley de derechos de voto ante el Congreso. Los demócratas han introducido la Ley para el Pueblo, una medida radical que protege el derecho al voto, pone fin al gerrymandering partidista, detiene el flujo de efectivo a las elecciones y requiere nuevas pautas éticas para los legisladores. También han introducido la Ley de Derechos de Voto John Lewis, que se centra más estrechamente en el voto y restaura las protecciones proporcionadas en la Ley de Derechos de Voto de 1965.

Los senadores republicanos han anunciado su oposición a cualquier proyecto de ley de derechos de voto, por lo que cualquier ley que se apruebe tendrá que sortear el filibusterismo en el Senado, que no se puede romper sin 10 senadores republicanos. Los demócratas podrían romper el filibusterismo para un proyecto de ley de derechos de voto, pero los senadores Joe Manchin (D-WV) y Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) indicaron a principios de este verano que no apoyarían tal medida.

Y, sin embargo, hay señales de que un proyecto de ley de derechos de voto no está muerto. Los senadores demócratas han seguido trabajando para llegar a un proyecto de ley que pueda pasar por su partido, y no tiene sentido hacerlo si, al final, saben que no pueden convertirlo en una ley. «Todo el mundo está trabajando de buena fe en esto», dijo Manchin a Mike DeBonis del Washington Post. «Es la aportación de todos, no solo la mía, pero creo que la mía, tal vez… nos hizo a todos hablar y rodar en la dirección en la que teníamos que volver a lo básico», dijo.

Volver a lo básico es una muy buena idea. La idea básica de que no podemos tener igualdad ante la ley sin igualdad de acceso a la boleta electoral nos dio las Enmiendas Decimotercera, Decimocuarta y Decimoquinta a la Constitución, y estableció el poder del gobierno federal sobre los estados para hacerlas cumplir.

—-

Fuentes:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2021/06/08/how-is-john-lewis-voting-rights-act-different-hr-1/

https://www.ourdocuments.gov/doc.php

https://www.newsweek.com/only-third-republicans-think-voting-fundamental-right-poll-1612336

https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2021/07/22/wide-partisan-divide-on-whether-voting-is-a-fundamental-right-or-a-privilege-with-responsibilities/

https://cha.house.gov/report-voting-america-ensuring-free-and-fair-access-ballot

https://cha.house.gov/sites/democrats.cha.house.gov/files/2021_Voting%20in%20America_v5_web.pdf

https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/democrats-craft-revised-voting-rights-bill-seeking-to-keep-hopes-alive-in-the-senate/2021/07/28/855b93fc-efc5-11eb-81d2-ffae0f931b8f_story.html

Traducido por Norberto Barreto Velázquez

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Church and the State in America: a Brief Primer

Ira Chernus

HNN      May 5, 2014

153347-Union_Park_Congregational_Church_and_Carpenter_Chapel_Chicago_IL

Congregational Church, Chicago, Illinois

The Supreme Court has ruled, 5-4, that Greece, New York, can open its town meetings with a prayer, even though nearly all the prayers have contained distinctively Christian language. No doubt advocates and critics of the opinion are scouring American history, looking for proof that their view is correct.

If they look with an unjaundiced eye, they’ll quickly discover one basic principle: Whatever position you hold on this issue, you can find some support in our nation’s history. So history alone cannot resolve the ongoing debate. But it can help inform the debate.

To understand that history we have to begin in the European Middle Ages, when the Roman Catholic Church held sway over the religious life of almost all western Europeans. Politically each area was usually ruled by a single a monarch.  Since «Church» and «state» were both monolithic institutions, it made sense to talk about «church-state relations» quite literally.

In principle, both sides usually agreed that the state ruled over the affairs of this world and the church ruled over the affairs of the soul as it headed toward the next world. In practice, though, each side often tried to extend its power over the other.

When the Protestant reformation came along in the 16th century, it refuted the Catholic church’s claim to control other-worldly affairs. But it did not challenge the basic idea that each area should have one secular ruler and one established church, and the two should live side by side, each respecting the other’s domain. So tensions between church and state inevitably continued.

Since nearly all the early European colonists in what would become the United States were Protestants, they brought that Protestant view with them. Different denominations had majorities in the various colonies, and each had its own model of church-state relations.

But nearly everyone assumed that it could make sense for a colony to have one established church, which would have special privileges from and influence upon the colony. Most of the colonies did, in fact, have established churches.

By the early 1700s, though, the colonies were filling up with immigrants from different places who held different religious views. So the established churches everywhere had to tolerate dissent from the official religion, to a greater or lesser degree.  At the same time, the colonies were experimenting with all sorts of different political structures.

Thus «church» and «state» were no longer monolithic entities as they had been in medieval times. Gradually, the term «church» became a code word for religion in general, including the many different religious beliefs and practices held by different groups and individuals. And the term «state» became a code word for the many various political structures — town, city, county, colonial legislature, royal council, etc.

Things got more complicated in the 18th century as people found their identity based less in fixed social institutions and more in open-ended individual conscience. The Enlightenment philosophers taught that religion was a matter of private belief and individual relationship with God. They also taught that every individual was free to choose their own political views and that the state should base its policies on the will of the majority.

A large Christian revival movement called the Great Awakening reinforced the idea that religion is a matter of inner experience and personal relationship with God more than membership in a church. So the Enlightenment and the Awakening combined to promote individualism and the notion of religion as a private matter.

By the time of the American Revolution, then, there was a complex triangular structure, with private individuals, political institutions («state»), and religious institutions («church») all interacting. So the term «church-state relations» meant, more than ever, an endlessly complex set of changing relations among all the different forms of religious and political life.

But there was a growing belief in the colonies that the private individual had highest priority, that the main role of the state was to protect the individual’s rights, including the right to decide on one’s own religion.

The colonists who joined the Revolution against England all agreed on one thing: the English political system was a tyranny, and the Church of England was part of that tyranny. So there was growing fear of the very idea of an established church.

It was only natural, then, that the new United States would want to protect its citizens from an established church. So the first words of the Bill of Rights said that «Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof

But there was no clear agreement then, as there is none now, about exactly what those words mean.

Some see the two clauses making two opposites points. «No law respecting establishment of religion» makes it illegal to force people to practice  a religion; «no law prohibiting free exercise» makes it illegal to stop people from practicing religion. The «no establishment» clause protects the people and the government from religion. The «free exercise» clause protects religion from the government and the will of the majority.

But some say that both clauses actually make the same point: They both protect individuals from the federal government. The government cannot impose a religious institution on any individual, nor can the government restrict any individual’s religious life. In fact some religious institutions supported the 1st amendment when it was ratified and refused to take any support from the government because they feared such support would entitle the government to impose controls upon them.

The debate about the meaning of the 1st amendment and the intentions of the founders still rages on because they did not bequeath to us any single consistent view on church and state. They all claimed to be Christian. But they had many different ideas of what it meant to be Christian. Each individual could hold what we might see as contradictory views and practices.

To take one important example: Thomas Jefferson created the image of a «wall of separation between church and state» and wrote powerfully about the need to protect the religious freedom of every individual. Yet in the Declaration of Independence he based the entire political philosophy of the new nation on the idea that all men are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights. Without God, Jefferson’s whole political philosophy makes no sense. Jefferson was also devoted to the teachings of Jesus, but only as he understood them; he even created his own version of the Gospels. Jefferson also supported, on occasion, legislation to create public prayer days and to punish people who broke Sabbath laws.

If we cannot expect logical consistency even from Thomas Jefferson, we certainly can’t expect it from the founding fathers as a group.

The 1st amendment was the product of political compromise among the founders. So perhaps it is best to see it as the beginning of a conversation or debate about the relation of political and religious life. Perhaps many of the founders knew that all they could agree on was the need to continue the debate.

Though the founders disagreed on what it meant to be Christian, they all assumed that some version of what each one saw as the «basics» of Christianity was more or less necessary as a foundation of an orderly society. Most of them assumed that Christian values were the basis of political liberty.

Even those who were wary of Christian bias would probably have agreed with Justice Anthony Kennedy, who wrote the majority opinion in the recent Greece case:

«Prayer is but a recognition that, since this nation was founded and until the present day, many Americans deem that their own existence must be understood by precepts far beyond the authority of government to alter or define.»

So most of the founders saw no contradiction between the federal government guaranteeing freedom of religion and the states having established churches that could get special privileges from government, provide prayers for political occasions, and dictate the teaching of religion in schools

But by the late 18th century all the states had so much diversity that the power of established churches was rapidly fading. Massachusetts was the last state to end its established church, in 1833. By the 19th century, then, Americans did not merely believe in the right to dissent from the dominant church. They assumed that there would no longer be any dominant church.

Yet the 19th century was dominated by one religious view: evangelical Christianity. Evangelicals emphasized individual experience as the basis of religion. So religion became, more than ever, a matter of individual choice, which led to the creation of many new churches. But the evangelical fervor also strengthened the idea that all Christians share basic values in common, and that these were the core values of the American way of life — a view that would surface again in some 20th century Supreme Court decisions.

For evangelicals, the «wall of separation» meant that everyone was free to influence the government as much as possible according to their own version of Christian values, with the goal of making America the kingdom of God on earth. For some that meant causes we would consider liberal, like free public schools for all and the abolition of slavery. For some it meant causes that we would call conservative, like prohibition of alcohol and teaching the Bible in public schools. Many felt comfortable supporting all these reform movements.

From the 1840s on large waves of Catholic immigrants came to the U.S.. They learned to accept religious pluralism and reject the old Catholic tradition of one universal church for everyone. But they created their own schools, raising new questions about state support for religious education. These problems, like nearly all problems of church and state in the 19th century, were dealt with at the local and state levels.

After the Civil War, the 14th amendment made all states subject to rule by the federal constitution, opening the way for federal courts to apply the 1st amendment and rule on church-state issues. In 1879 the Supreme Court issued its first opinion directly dealing with church and state. It ruled that the government could forbid Mormons from practicing polygamy. The Court cited words written by Jefferson indicating that the wall of separation prevents the government only from controlling religious beliefs. But the government could forbid behaviors it deemed harmful to society.

However it was not until the 1940s that the Supreme Court began addressing the church-state question in earnest. By that time the federal government was playing a much larger role in the life of every American, while a slowly rising tide of secularism was undermining the notion of America as a Christian nation. For growing numbers of Americans, «the American way of life» meant a dedication to pluralism, diversity, and the fullest protection of individual rights. These factors combined to bring many issues related to religion before the Court.

In 1940 the Court took on the case of Jehovah’s Witnesses who argued they should be able to go door to door without a state license. The Court agreed, declaring for the first time that the 1st amendment’s «free exercise of religion» clause applied to local and state governments as well as the federal.

In the same year, though, a group of Jehovah’s Witnesses argued that their children should not be required to salute the flag in school because it violated their free exercise of religion. The Court ruled against them. Then two years later, in an almost identical case, it ruled that the Jehovah’s Witness children did not have to salute the flag.

Why the abrupt turnaround? There is some evidence that the Court was influenced by a wave of criticism of its first decision from scholars and newspapers, and also by dismay over a wave of anti-Jehovah’s Witness prejudice after the first ruling. This case reminds us that the Court is never making its decision in some abstract realm of pure legal rationality. It is always, to some extent, a barometer of the climate of public opinion.

In the Everson case of 1947 taxpayers argued that their town, which paid for children’s bus rides to public school, should not pay for Catholic children’s bus rides to Catholic school. Writing for the majority, Justice Hugo Black penned a famous, stirring defense of the wall of separation, arguing that the 1st amendment’s «no establishment of religion» clause applied to local and state as well as federal law. This became an accepted principle of later Court cases. Yet Black and the majority decided in favor of the Catholic children getting public money because it was going to them as individuals, not to the church.

This case, and the Court’s reversal in the Jehovah’s Witness cases, foreshadowed the history of church-state cases ever since then. There has been no consistent pattern, but rather what Justice Robert Jackson called a «winding, serpentine» wall of separation, full of all sorts of unpredictable twists and turns in the Court’s views.

Vagueness often prevails. In the Lemon case of 1971, the Court ruled that no law may «have the primary effect of either advancing or inhibiting religion» and left it for later Courts to figure out what that means.  Now the Court has added another contorted brick to that wall, by a 5-4 margin, as has so often been true in recent church-state cases.

The Court still reflects the climate of public opinion, which remains divided and uncertain about the proper relation of religious life to the body politic and the lives of individuals, or what we have come to call «church and state.» So the debate initiated by the 1st amendment goes on — which may be just what the founders intended.

Ira Chernus is professor of Religious Studies at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

 

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