Witt: We can not afford to fall backward

In December, the U.S. Senate unanimously passed the Justice for Victims of Lynching Act.

The majority of at least 4,742 lynchings in the U.S., between 1882 and 1968 were directed against people of color.

According to NBC News, as of Jan. 9, the Liberty Counsel, an evangelical nonprofit group that opposes gay rights and has been labeled an anti-LGBTQ “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center, is taking issue with the bill’s inclusion of LGBTQ people in the bill.

Many will remember the Liberty Counsel was the group that provided legal services for Kim Davis, the Rowan County clerk who refused to issue marriage licenses to gay couples and brought on a suit which found its way to the highest state court.

Liberty Counsel is lobbying the House of Representatives to remove “sexual-orientation” and “gender identity” language from the bill and has even urged Congress to remove such protective language from trade bills.

It is difficult to explain why some people and some groups — like the Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas — are so vehemently anti-gay, and easy to wonder what other specific groups might become the subject of their wrath and bigotry.

If the Liberty Counsel were successful in getting Congress to remove protective language for gay people, might not they and other radical groups find openings to attack or remove protections from others?

How about the Aryan Nation lobbying to remove anti-discrimination statutes which protect blacks or Jews?

Maybe the country could revert to discrimination against Asian immigrants, such as was prominent in the early 20th Century.

Or perhaps we could once again outlaw mixed marriages, or blacks being able to sit anywhere on a public bus or a lunch counter.

Maybe we could change our military system back to a time when blacks were relegated to minor roles like being stewards and truck drivers and mess attendants, until they proved themselves as capable as any person, of any color, in military service.

Even the vilest groups in this country, like those who freely display Nazi symbols, take advantage of the protections of our Constitution and laws.

Would they passively acquiesce to reductions in their liberties if they were singled out for certain types of discrimination?

And what if certain religions seek to limit the rights of all other faiths or of nonreligious people.

Perhaps Clarence Darrow clarified discrimination most eloquently during the Scopes Trial in Dayton, Tennessee, in 1925.

Even though his comments were directed at the specific teaching of evolution, his words can easily be applied to virtually any preference.

“If today you can take a thing like evolution and make it a crime to teach it in the public school, tomorrow you can make it a crime to teach it in the private school, and the next year you can make it a crime to teach it from the hustings or in the church,” he said. “And the next session, you may ban books and the newspapers. Soon you may set Catholic against Protestant and Protestant against Protestant, and try to foist your own religion upon the minds of men.

“If you can do one you can the other. Ignorance and fanaticism is ever busy and needs feeding. After a while, Your Honor, it is the setting of man against man and creed against creed until, with flying banners and beating drums, we are marching backward to the glorious ages of the 16th Century when bigots lighted fagots to burn the men who dared to bring any intelligence and enlightenment and culture to the human mind.”

The Liberty Counsel may not be carrying fagots to the halls of Congress, but their prejudice and bigotry are the antitheses of the enlightenment Darrow described.

We cannot — we must not — go back.

Chuck Witt is a retired architect and a lifelong resident of Winchester. He can be reached at chuck740@bellsouth.net.