DOUG ROSS: Civil rights meet wrongs in Indiana, Arizona

2014-02-28T00:00:00Z DOUG ROSS: Civil rights meet wrongs in Indiana, ArizonaBy Doug Ross, (219) 548-4360 or (219) 933-3357

We're all in the same boat when it comes to civil rights, but some of the passengers are paddling backward.

I'm referring to state lawmakers promoting pro-discrimination legislation.

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed legislation Wednesday that would have allowed people to use their religious beliefs as a defense against discrimination claims.

In Indiana, state Sen. Phil Boots, R-Crawfordsville, attempted Wednesday to allow employers to use religion as a factor in determining who to hire.

That runs counter to everything I've heard about American employment practices, beginning with my undergrad business law class at Purdue North Central. There are certain questions that should not be asked at a job interview, and questions about religion are absolutely verboten.

What Boots proposed, what the Arizona legislators proposed, was to turn back the clock and allow discrimination that currently is illegal, not to mention unconstitutional.

If any of these proposals eventually become law, legal challenges will be inevitable.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder urged his state counterparts to not enforce laws that go against their beliefs. Holder, who is African-American, said he wouldn't have defended a "separate but equal" law in court.

Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller took the opposite tack, saying he defends laws he doesn't believe in. He cited capital punishment as an example. He's opposed to it, but his staff attorneys routinely make the state's case for applying the death penalty.

If Boots gets his way, Zoeller would be put in the position of defending an unconstitutional law that supports discrimination.

I'd like to think our society has come a long way since segregation was routine. I shudder at the thought of encouraging, rather than forbidding, businesses to discriminate against a group of customers based on their color, ethnic origin, creed or religion.

This isn't about religious ceremonies. That's different. This is about equal rights, not equal rites. 

What our nation needs is unity, not division. The laws proposed in Indiana and Arizona and elsewhere must be denounced loudly.

It wasn't long ago that the world celebrated the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech. We've come a long way since then. But for as much progress as we've made, there are still people like Boots who are paddling in the opposite direction.

Anti-social media

Speaking of tolerance, Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. used Twitter and Facebook as anti-social media Thursday morning.

Thursday's editorial on the city settling a lawsuit with ousted Hammond Housing Authority Director Maria Becerra prompted a classic unfiltered rant by McDermott on Twitter and Facebook.

The mayor's skin is awfully thin for someone who aspires to higher office.

McDermott's rant, while entertaining, was wrong about the diversity of The Times staff, both racially and geographically. We have staff members who live all across the region, including in the urban area.

Editorial Page Editor Doug Ross can be reached at (219) 548-4360 or (219) 933-3357 or Follow him at and on Twitter @nwi_DougRoss. The opinions are the writer's.

Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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